Whenever the Chase finally arrives, one thing I always look for is who is going to fire the first shot, who’s gonna come out a bit slow, and who simply is just spinning their wheels.
After one race, I can’t say I’ve got a clearer picture than when I showcased my preview of the title hunt earlier in the week. Although what I can say is that a few of the guys I predicted would be favorites lived up to it, while some others surprised me.
My biggest surprise, which the more I thought about it wasn’t exactly a surprise, was Kasey Kahne. He had a strong car and wound up finishing third. Why this isn’t a surprise is the fact that the first Chase event is at Chicagoland Speedway, a 1.5-mile track. This kind of track is one that Kahne has been strong on since he was with Evernham Motorsports. So, it came as no surprise that he ran up front, so he’s making an early statement as to the fact that he wants to be in the championship hunt.
At the same time, two of the guys I picked as title favorites ended up being the ones waging the first battle of the season. It was also appropriate that the two were the dominant cars all race long.
Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski were the class of the field all day long, but the great stop on pit road combined with the hard charge on the lap following the stop gave Keselowski the advantage, and it was one he eventually stretched out en route to the victory.
So, I give the first “warning shot” to Johnson, who earned the pole for the race. However, the first battle of the Chase I’m going to give to Keselowski. The team wants to win a championship, as the summer season has not been a great one for Penske Racing, with A.J. Allmendinger being released after a failed drug test, and finally a week before the Chase they sign Joey Logano to drive the No. 22 car beginning in 2013. Dodge is leaving the sport at the end of the year, as Penske’s switch next season to Ford ultimately spelled doom for the manufacturer.
What better way to make a statement than doing so in the first race of the season.
Don’t ask me how the next Chase event will end up, as each week it’s a different story, different kind of track, and different players will be looked at as they go for a win in the second Chase race, the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire.
RESULTS: 1-Keselowski 2-Johnson 3-Kahne 4-Kyle Busch 5-Newman 6-Stewart 7-Logano 8-Earnhardt Jr. 9-Truex Jr. 10-Bowyer
NOTABLE FINISHES: 12-Harvick 13-Biffle 16-Hamlin 18-Kenseth 35-Gordon
CAUTIONS: 4 for 23 laps. Lap 67-71 (Debris), 102-105 (Debris), 150-157 (#13 accident-T2), 189-194 (#24 accident-T1).
LEAD CHANGES: 16 among 9 drivers. Johnson POLE, Almirola 1-3, Johnson 4-45, Keselowski 46, Kenseth 47-48, Johnson 49-102, Keselowski 103-150, Johnson 151-189, Ragan 190-191, Johnson 192-228, Keselowski 229, Hamlin 230, Stewart 231-233, Bowyer 234-239, McMurray 240, Ragan 241, Keselowski 242-267.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 47 Mins, 43 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 143.363 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 3.171 Seconds
CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP: 1. Keselowski, 2056 points; 2. Johnson, -3; 3. Stewart, -8; 4. Hamlin, -15; 5. Kahne, -15; 6. Bowyer, -15; 7. Earnhardt Jr, -17; 8. Biffle, -19; 9. Truex Jr, -21; 10. Harvick, -24; 11. Kenseth, -26; 12. Gordon, -47.