Winning may be more emphasized these days in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but when it comes to the Chase for the Sprint Cup – the 10-race stretch that determines the series’ champion – consistency is still king.
After today’s GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway went back to green around 10 p.m. ET following a five-hour-plus red flag period for rain, multiple contenders in the post-season field had to overcome assorted problems on the track and in the pits to get the good result they needed and avoid the bad one that could’ve put them in a big hole.
Third-place finisher Kevin Harvick (pictured) nearly ran into Dave Blaney on pit road during a congested stop under yellow at Lap 169, but still played a critical role in the outcome by pushing eventual race winner Matt Kenseth past Kyle Busch for the lead off a restart with 22 laps remaining.
“Our car was really good on the restarts, so you could pick a bunch of them off pretty easy there going into Turn 1 and 2,” Harvick said. All in all, it was a good night, just too loose at the end to run with those guys up off the corner, but still a good night.”
Also having to battle back was Kurt Busch, who was tagged with a speeding penalty on pit road early on in the race and was knocked all the way to 29th. However, when the race restarted after the red flag, Busch took a wave-around to get back on the lead lap.
From there, “The Outlaw” then went on a steady climb for the rest of the night, making his way into the Top 5 and locking down a solid fourth-place result.
“Top-5s are what it’s all about in the Chase,” said Kurt. “One down and nine to go. Just hats off to this crew. It’s a long day with rain delays and just in of focus, out of focus and we gave it our best effort.”
Next up in the “Overcoming Adversity” group was five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. During a stop on Lap 75, a NASCAR official reported that a lug nut was loose on one of Johnson’s tires; his team was able to prove that it was on.
Johnson lost only a few positions in that incident, but on another stop at Lap 149, a jack failure forced a lengthy wait for him and sent him down to 22nd. But his car came alive late, enabling Johnson to turn lemons into lemonade once again and claim fifth place.
His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, also put on a comeback show. He was third coming to a restart with 95 laps to go but quickly dropped like a rock due to a flat left rear tire.
Gordon was put off-strategy because of that, and he needed a caution to get back in the game. He got it on Lap 226, when his HMS compadre, Dale Earnhardt Jr., suffered a major engine failure to bring out the yellow.
Lining up 18th for the restart with 37 laps remaining, Gordon would then show off the great pace he had all night in the closing stages. He moved into the Top 10 with 28 circuits to go and then went further up the pylon to an eventual finish of sixth.
“That was an incredible accomplishment,” an ecstatic Gordon said to ESPN. “It just shows how much fight this team has. They never give up.”
“To think of how far down we were with 40 laps to go…To be able to come up through there and get sixth and have a shot at a Top 5 was a lot of fun. That’s what we needed to get this thing started off right.”
These guys couldn’t win the Chase tonight at Chicagoland, but they could have darn sure lost it. Luckily for them and their teams, they can go on to New Hampshire next week with title hopes still intact.