I was wrong. That is something you do not hear me say very often. How about this, then? The broadcast from Chicago was the best I have seen in years. That is something I do not ever remember saying, writing, or thinking. I did not think Chicago would be much worth watching. Boy, was I wrong.
Racing is exciting. The NBC crew of Rick Allen, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte sounded like they were excited by what they were watching. Pit reporters Marty Snider, Dave Burns, Kelli Stavast and Parker Kligerman sounded like they were involved in one hell of an event, one they believed we should want to follow closely. Because of them, I did. Even the camera shots, be it the focus on those in the pits, the in-car footage and how it was used, and even the lap by lap coverage of the action seemed to be a step above. Hard as I may, I could not skip ahead. I had to watch and listen. NBC did its job. It is about time someone in the sport finally did. Amen. Amen.
Clint Bowyer looked heaven sent. Then things went to hell. After charging to the lead, his green flag stop resulted in a penalty for exiting the pits too quickly. When he came in to do his drive-through penance, be damned if the lad did not speed through that, too. Now, he needed to do a stop and go penalty, but he did not stop. Guess what? Yes, back he had to come in yet again. That is one way to turn one’s day into nothing but a pile of frozen horse pucks. In no time, he had gone from first to 35th and three laps down. Well, the car looked nice. So will the one he drives next week.
It might be cooler in Florida. It was close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Chicago on Sunday. It was over 155 degrees in the cars, as we discovered through yet another in-car shot. I am sure Bowyer was hot enough due to how his day was going. Chances are, he was more like a dog on the grill, and we were still in the opening stage.
No one got stage points due to someone else’s pit strategy. They earned them, with Aric Almirola taking the maximum 10. Among those in our top 10 in the standings, Kyle Busch, Bowyer, Austin Dillon, and Denny Hamlin came up empty, replaced by Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Erik Jones. Only 16 were on the lead lap come break time.
Almirola remained the story, and with 10 left in the stanza, he recorded his best lap only to pull into the pits. He was sure he had a loose wheel. The team was not sure he did. It was. A smart call by the driver, though he dropped just off the lead lap to 26th. That left it to his teammates, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick to decide the stage. It literally came down to the final yards heading to the line, with Harvick taking it by .28 of a second. Pretty exciting stuff, and we still had over a hundred laps to go.
Once again, no one not already in a Chase place picked up any bonus points. Almirola and Jones dropped out this time around, with Hamlin and Bowyer joining the party. A combination of driving like a bat out of hell, strategy, and good fortune delivered through a debris caution that allowed Clint to get back on the lead lap, and he took advantage of it to sit eighth at this point. Blaney took only two fresh tires under the same caution, and that move gained him five spots, to fifth, as they set their sights on the checkered flag run.
They also had their sights set on the radar. Wet weather was coming in front the west. Hamlin went for a skid, that brought out a caution. That allowed Kyle Busch to finally put his previously ailing beast in the lead coming out of the pits. As he had been with Bowyer, Almirola, and Rowdy’s brother, Harvick was again the hunter.
Then he became the hunted. Kyle Larson was strong all day, finishing among the top three in the opening two stages. He was stout late and got around Harvick for second. Once again, it was the two Kyles. NBC brought it home with commentary that matched the excitement on the screen as they described the duel to the finish. There was contact as Larson went to the front. Behind him, Busch put on the blade and started up the bulldozer. That contact sent Larson for a skid, yet he finished second. Busch, with his right front flat and about to depart the auto, went to the line for his 48th career victory, his fifth of the season.
There were boos from the stands. They better have been disappointed Larson fans, as Busch did what the greats have done for decades. Larson, by his own admission, began the car-to-car contact. All Busch did was finish it.
One Kyle may have won the race, but the other topped the day’s points with 52. Harvick’s 50 came next, followed by the 48 claimed by Martin Truex Jr., who always was among the top five it seemed, as those two finished third and fourth respectively. As for Bowyer, he showed that with a fast car and a p***** off attitude, a man can do amazing things, like finishing fifth.
I thought Chicago was going to be a dud. I was wrong. The best race of the season, bar none. The chemistry of this broadcast team; the excitement, the information they provided, and the humor is the best we have been blessed with for many, many years. If this is what NBC can deliver from Chicago, just imagine how freaking awesome Daytona is going to be next week.
Thanks to NBC, NASCAR is back. It is about time.