In the first race of the 10-race Chase to the championship here is what was surprising and not surprising from 15th Annual myAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Surprising: While Denny Hamlin proved he was better than the rest of the field, coming back from an early spin to win the first race of the Chase, he also proved he was better than one of basketball’s greatest.
“The first thing I’m going to do is text Michael Jordan,” Hamlin said in the media center after the race. “He texted me on Wednesday. Jordon said he was in Monte-Carlo. I popped in his head like I always do, which I thought was a little odd.
“He says, I know you’re about to head into the playoffs. I just want you to know I’ve never admitted to anybody that anyone is better than me at anything my whole life. But if you win this race this weekend, I will admit that you’re a better driver than I am.
“So the first thing I’m going to do is text him and say, Admit it, I’m better than you, and I want everyone to know.”
With the ‘W,’ Hamlin advances to the Contender round of the championship and also ties NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen for 27th on the all-time Series win list.
Not Surprising: Remember when Carl Edward’s nickname was ‘Concrete Carl’ for all of his wins on those types of tracks? Well, that moniker might now be changed to ‘Comeback Carl’ as the driver of the No. 19 Stanley Toyota finished in the runner-up spot after going down a lap earlier in the race.
“I had a speeding penalty. I set us back there,” Edwards said. “We knew if maybe we get our lap back, get back up there, we’d be all right.
“Overall we planned on the racetrack changing a lot. I felt like my guys did a great job getting the car tuned in for the end. I felt like all of us as a group at JGR worked great together this weekend.”
This was Edwards’s fourth top-10 finish in 11 races at Chicagoland and it was his 10th top-10 finish of the season.
Surprising: He may have achieved Iron Man status, but he certainly might have traded all that for just a little more rubber instead at this first race in the Chase.
Jeff Gordon tied Ricky Rudd with 788 consecutive starts, however, the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet stayed out on old tires instead of coming to pit, causing him to go from leading the race to finishing 14th.
“I knew we were going to have a tough time with old tires like that,” Gordon said. “Gosh, it would have been so much sweeter if I’d been in Victory Lane right now.
“I’m very proud of all that I’ve achieved in this sport. There’s a lot of stats that are awesome numbers. This is one of them. And we’ve got nine more to go.”
Not Surprising: After recovering from his close encounter with Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick has a simple one-word recovery plan. He just plans to win.
“I just held my ground and he just slammed into the side of the door like I wasn’t even there,” the driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet said after his wreck with Johnson that led to his 42nd place finish. “So, the spotter was telling me four-wide and I guess he just figured that he’d come up the race track.
“But, I’m just really proud of everybody on our Jimmy John’s/Budweiser team for not giving up and doing all the things they had to do to get the car back on the track and we’ve just got to go win one of these races.”
Surprising: Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet was apparently readying himself for a pilgrimage after his third place Chicagoland finish.
“This is a long journey through these next 10 weeks,” Busch said. “We weren’t given a hall pass now, through Loudon and through Dover. We’ve just got to work hard as a team and saddle-up.”
This was Busch’s ninth top-10 finish in 15 races at Chicagoland Speedway.
Not Surprising: The mantra of every child known to man was echoed by one Chase driver Joey Logano, who basically said ‘It wasn’t me’ after the first Chase race.
Of his restart issue where the No. 48 and the No. 4 cars mixed it up, Logano replied, “I had nothing to do with that. The 48 went three-wide bottom and I was just sitting there. I was no part of it.”
And of the restart of Jeff Gordon that NASCAR reviewed and pronounced good, the driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford said, “I felt like the 24 jumped it once, but NASCAR isn’t calling it so we just need to push it.”
Logano qualified second and finished the Chicagoland race in the sixth spot.
“I felt like we were in the catbird seat on that restart starting sixth with new tires. I had a good start and got three-wide. The 18 got tight and fenced us. We lost all the spots that we should have gained. I felt like we were in the position that we needed to be in to win this thing.”
Surprising: While Hamlin punched his Chase ticket, there was no ticket, especially one of the speeding variety, for his teammate Matt Kenseth.
“I definitely didn’t speed anywhere today,” Kenseth said. “We really struggled. We had probably a 15th-place car at best and barely hung onto the lead lap all day and got the right line on the restart.
“Jason made some good adjustments, guys never quit. We were in the right line at the restart. Everybody got bottled up. I think passed seven or eight of them in the first corner, another two or three the next set of corners.
“Somehow we wound up fifth. We definitely finished way better than we deserved today. But that’s what you have to do in these things, you have to try to take your days and try to make them the best you can.”
Not Surprising: Martin Truex Jr. came close to losing it at Chicagoland, in fact losing out on his top-10 finishing record and slipping to finish 13th instead.
“You can’t win the Chase in the first race but you can sure lose it,” Truex said. “We didn’t lose it today but finishing 13th after running solidly in the top-10 for almost the entire race is very disappointing.
“We didn’t have the speed to get back up there at the end. Though we didn’t have a great race car today, it was sure better than 13th. We’ll regroup and go after it in New Hampshire next week.”
Surprising: Two drivers, who no doubt had Chase expectations coming into the 2015 season, showed they could still mix it up with the best. Kyle Larson and Aric Almirola both finished better than many of the Chasers, in fact in seventh and 10th respectively.
Not Surprising: Sometimes drivers are fans and sometimes not. After this race, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was not alone in not being a fan of restarts while Tony Stewart was all about proving that Ryan Newman should be his fan.
“Those debris cautions, I’m not a fan of them,” Junior said after finishing 12th in his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet.
Tony Stewart, on the other hand, was not only signing autographs for fans before the race but also autographing the back of Newman’s shirt, no doubt for a bit of luck.
Newman, one of the Chase contenders, finished fourth while Stewart finished well back in the 25th position.
“I did what I had to do,” Newman said. “I was a lap down and took the wave around. That last caution was a blessing for us. Big improvement for where we were last year in the Chase. We just have to keep focused on our own deal.”
The second race in the Chase will occur at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend on Sunday, September 27, 2015. The Sylvania 300 will begin at 2:00 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBCSN.