Who’s in the headline – The best driver and team for the vast majority of 2017 has been Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78. They made another statement in the first race of the playoffs with a dominating performance over the second half at Chicagoland Speedway. Truex already has the playoff points necessary to waltz into the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale, and this is just one more nail in the rest of the field’s coffins when it comes to a shot at the title.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 17, 2017
What happened – Kyle Busch took the pole by a huge margin over the field and dominated the first stage of the race. When he came to pit road between stages, his team left a wheel loose, which necessitated a green-flag stop. During that stop, the gas man sat on the wall, as they always do, but did not have a can. As a result, a penalty was called for a crew member over the wall too soon and Busch had to do a pass through. The No. 18 team found themselves two laps down and never got back to the lead lap.
Chase Elliott won the race off of pit road from green flag stops in the middle of stage two and led the remainder of the laps in the stage to pick up his third stage win of the season. Kevin Harvick led the start of the final stage until Truex made the only on-track pass for the lead that wasn’t on the lap after a restart. In the end, Truex led all but one of the final 78 laps of the race as NASCAR let it play out and didn’t throw a BS caution to add drama.
— Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) September 17, 2017
Why you should care – The regular season champion is finally being rewarded for the first time since the advent of the playoff format in 2004. It just so happens that this year it is Truex who is laying the wood to the competition. With 53 playoff points coming into the playoffs and earning another five after this weekend, Truex is looking even more assured of a spot in the final round at Homestead. The remaining three spots will most likely be up in the air until after the final three race-segment concluding at Phoenix International Raceway, but Truex has proven the title will go through the No. 78 camp.
What your friends are talking about – The entire week leading up to Chicago was filled with a cavalcade of crap out of Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch with a smattering of Denny Hamlin thrown in. Keselowski is claiming that the Toyotas have a huge advantage and Busch and Hamlin are informing him to shut up and go to work instead of whining because his team can’t compete. The underlying flaw in Keselowski’s claim is that there were four Chevrolets and three Fords in the top ten on Sunday. It is hard to take a claim seriously about a disadvantage when there is an equal number of all three manufacturers in the money spots.
Truex failed the Laser Inspection Station (LIS) three times prior to the race before finally passing. There will be some kind of penalty next week, though most likely just a loss of practice time. Expect to hear much whining and hand wringing by fans over the treatment that Toyota receives. In the end it isn’t a big deal and had no bearing on their victory.
Silly season continues to get crazy this year. Smithfield announced that they are going to leave Richard Petty Motorsports and head to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018. The announcement caught Richard Petty off guard after he thought there was a handshake deal in place for their relationship to continue. After Petty voiced his surprise publicly, the CEO of Smithfield immediately fired back in a public forum that they are going elsewhere because they don’t think they have a shot to win with RPM. Now, that very well might be a true statement, but it isn’t a good idea to slam The King any time you’re dealing with NASCAR. It also might not bode well for you if you’re moving to the No. 10 at SHR, which is the only ride in their stable that hasn’t won bupkis.
Speaking of RPM, almost immediately after the Smithfield announcement came out, the word spread that Aric Almirola will also not be back with the team next season. It has been a poorly kept secret that the folks at RPM covet Darrell Wallace Jr., and they certainly don’t have sponsorship for two cars in 2018. As a result, it appears that Almirola is the odd man out. Rumor is he’ll be heading to SHR, but that has not been confirmed.
RPM had one more item in the news this week as they announced a multi-year deal with Grunt Style. The company makes apparel with veterans and patriots catering to those seeking patriotic clothing. There was some buzz on social media about some of the messages on a few of the shirts available from the company that were a bit insensitive toward Muslims. The heat was especially turned up on NASCAR for approving the sponsorship after they refused to let a hem- based product line on the hood of Carl Long’s car.
Danica Patrick also fed into the RPM/SHR news, announcing that her career at Stewart-Haas Racing would end after the 2017 season. Patrick has not resigned herself to abandoning stock car racing, but does not want to run in a non-competitive ride. Given her seven top 10s in her five-plus-year career at SHR, it is doubtful an organization with a top flight car is going to put her in the seat unless she secures a major sponsor.
Barney Visser has sold the charter from the No. 77 team to an undisclosed organization. Visser has not abandoned the idea of running the number as a second team in 2018, but made it clear that he has no interest in running a partial schedule, so sponsorship would have to be able to run the full year. If such sponsorship can be secured, the company could lease a charter from another organization.
NASCAR is going to employ a new inspection bay in 2018 that is supposed to reduce a six minute process to 90 seconds. That means we’ll still be spending too much time in the inspection process. Hopefully the powers that be will eventually realize this fact and stop the madness on race weekends.
Modified and national champion Ted Christopher was killed in a plane crash Saturday en route to Riverhead Raceway to compete in a Modified Tour race. Charles Dundas, the 81-year-old pilot, was also killed in the crash.
Who is mad – After qualifying three miles per hour faster than the field, Busch finished 15th. A loose wheel after the first stage and then a penalty for the gas man sitting on the wall with a foot on the ground relegated him to two laps down. Busch spent the remainder of the race trying to get back onto the lead lap with no success. Busch is in no danger of not advancing to the next round but he was clearly none too pleased after the race and no one can blame him.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won two races during the regular season. Much of the talk leading up to Chicago for Stenhouse centered on making it to the second round and then having a shot at the win at Talladega. Unfortunately for Stenhouse, he bounced his car off of the wall early in the race and it led to a handful of problems that eventually led to a 25th-place finish, four laps down. The No. 17 team is now four points out of the transfer spot, and they have to worry about advancing to the second round in order to take advantage of his strength on plate tracks this season.
Who is happy – Chase Elliott is in his second playoffs in his second full-time season in Cup. He still hasn’t managed to win a race, but he continues to knock on the door. He won the second stage and came home in the second position on Sunday. The No. 24 team has been the best of the Hendrick Motorsports camp most of the year and it is just a matter of time before that manifests into a victory. For now, Elliott is looking solid to make the move to round two of the playoffs.
When you race on your birthday you hope for a great present, like a victory. Unfortunately for Jimmie Johnson, that didn’t come to fruition but it was a good run for the seven-time champion. Over the last three races, Johnson has run 12th or better, including back-to-back eighth-place finishes. Johnson has the playoff points to easily make it through the first two rounds and the third round sets up ideally for him.
When the checkered flag flew:
Martin Truex Jr. won his 12th career race in his 432nd career start.
This is Truex’s fifth triumph of 2017.
For the second year in a row Truex scored the win at Chicagoland Speedway.
The victory ranks Truex in 58th on the All-Time wins list.
The first loser was Chase Elliott whose second was his best-career finish at Chicago.
Elliott’s second place is his second of the season.
This is the fourth runner-up of Elliott’s career which ties him for 94th on the All-Time list with ten other drivers including Jimmy Spencer and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Kevin Harvick rounded out the podium at Chicagoland for his sixth time this season.
Harvick has six career top three runs at Chicago.
114 times Harvick has finished on the podium. That ranks 16th on the All-Time list.
Rookie of the Race was Daniel Suarez. This is the twelfth win of the year for Suarez. Erik Jones has won the Rookie of the Race twelve times this season. Ty Dillon has been bestowed the award three times.
The victory for Martin Truex Jr. gives him the first automatic berth into the second round of the playoffs. With the addition of the five playoff points for the win Sunday Truex now has 58 for the season. The remainder of the playoff contenders with the rank, points and playoff points:
- Kyle Larson – 2075 – 33
- Kevin Harvick – 2067 – 15
- Brad Keselowski – 2061 – 19
- Kyle Busch – 2061 – 30
- Chase Elliott – 2059 – 7
- Denny Hamlin – 2058 – 13
- Jimmie Johnson – 2046 – 17
- Matt Kenseth – 2039 – 5
- Ryan Blaney – 2034 – 8
- Jamie McMurray – 2031 – 3
- Austin Dillon – 2026 – 5
- Kurt Busch – 2026 – 5
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 2022 – 10
- Kasey Kahne – 2021 – 5
- Ryan Newman – 2019 – 5
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic) After all of the hype, pomp and circumstance the green flag finally flew on the 2017 NASCAR playoffs. After watching 267 laps of follow the leader interspersed with mistakes in execution all there is left to say is, “hopefully race number two is better.” One on-track pass for the lead other than the lap following a restart in the entire race, eight speeding penalties, two crew members over the wall early penalties and at least half a dozen loose lug nuts left everyone wondering if the backup teams came to Chicago. The only thing that would have made it worse would have been a rain shortened race which, fortunately, didn’t happen. This one gets one warm Pilcher’s Pale Ale from MyGrain Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – Round two of the 2017 playoffs will take place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Coverage begins on Sunday Sept. 24 at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can also see the race streamed on the NBC Sports App. The race can be heard on your local PRN affiliate, goprn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.