Ah yes, the final race before the Chase. An event that in years past has seen so much drama, influence, surprise, and controversy. But yet this year, for some reason, the drama for the most part was already done. The true battle was simply who would fill the rest of the Chase Grid.
Let’s be honest, the field was pretty much set from the beginning of the race, as 11 drivers were officially locked in before the green flag waved. Those drivers had at least one win on the year, and were in the top-30 in points. Two of those drivers got waivers to even get the opportunity to race in the Chase, one due to legal matters outside of the sport, and the other due to an injury during another race.
One driver just needed to take the green flag to be in the mix for the championship, so the true battle was at the back of the standings to see who was in, and who was out.
It makes it interesting as a journalist because on instinct, the main news story is who is out front taking the victory in the race. That’s not the case here, because as much as the winner is the headline, the drama is at the back or middle of the pack, seeing who will make it into the Chase based on points. Look at what we had here, a battle among five drivers to make it into ultimately three spots.
One of those drivers achieved a top-five finish, his best thus far in the year. However, despite his closest competition finishing behind him, the point difference was not enough to close the gap and achieve one of those spots.
This makes for a difficult task as a writer to balance the headline of pieces to be both about who won the race, but also who made it into the title hunt.
One advantage this year is that eventual race winner, Matt Kenseth, had an absolutely dominant night. His win would be the fourth on the year, and moved him into the second seed for the Chase, and those bonus points mean everything when starting the Challenger Round. With resets happening after the third, sixth and ninth races in the Chase, having a higher seed to start the 10-race slugfest is huge, because it’s an early advantage.
Once the reset begins in the Contender Round, those bonus points don’t mean anything, because the reset puts everyone on even ground, which as we saw last year increased the intensity.
So now, these 16 teams have their work cut out for them. The Sprint yellow Chase decals are coming back out, and the title hunt officially begins.
The Chase…IT’S ON!!
RESULTS: 1-Kenseth 2-Kyle Busch 3-Logano 4-Almirola 5-Earnhardt Jr. 6-Hamlin 7-Gordon 8-Keselowski 9-Johnson 10-Bowyer
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Edwards 13-McMurray 14-Harvick 15-Kurt Busch 20-Newman 29-Stewart 32-Truex Jr.
CAUTIONS: 6 for 47 laps. Laps: 39-46 (#78 accident-T1); 99-103 (Debris-T1); 113-125 (#23, 46, 95 accident-BS); 211-217 (Debris-BS); 290-296 (Debris-BS); 376-382 (Debris-BS).
LEAD CHANGES: 13 among 4 drivers. J. Logano 1-14; M. Kenseth 15-46; J. Logano 47; M. Kenseth 48-103; J. Logano 104-108; M. Kenseth 109-121; J. Logano 122-125; D. Hamlin 126-138; M. Kenseth 139-216; D. Hamlin 217; Kyle Busch 218-226; M. Kenseth 227-296; J. Logano 297; M. Kenseth 298-400.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 59 Mins, 22 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 100.353 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.951 Seconds
2015 CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP: 1. Johnson, 2012 (points); 2. Kenseth, 2012; 3. Kyle Busch, 2012; 4. Logano, -3; 5. Harvick, -6; 6. Earnhardt Jr, -6; 7. Kurt Busch, -6; 8. Edwards, -6; 9. Keselowski, -9; 10. Truex Jr, -9; 11. Hamlin, -9; 12. McMurray, -12; 13. Newman, -12; 14. Gordon, -12; 15. Bowyer, -12; 16. Menard, -12.