Multiple Chasers overcome adversity for critical results

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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.

Valiant efforts from Hunter-Reay, Dixon come up just short at Road America

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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon drove about as hard as they possibly could during Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, and they both drove nearly perfect races.

Hunter-Reay took advantage of Will Power’s engine issues on the start to immediately jump into second, and stalked pole sitter and leader Josef Newgarden from there, often staying within only a couple car lengths of his gearbox.

Dixon, meanwhile, had a tougher chore after qualifying a disappointing 12th. Further, he was starting in the same lane as Will Power, and when Power had engine issues when the green flag waved, Dixon was one of several drivers who was swamped in the aftermath.

Scott Dixon had to come from deep in the field on Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

However, as is his style, he quietly worked his way forward, running sixth after the opening round of pit stops, and then working his way up to third after the second round of stops.

It all meant that, after Lap 30, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, and Dixon were nose-to-tail at the front, with the latter two in position to challenge for the win.

Yet, neither was able to do so. Hunter-Reay never got close enough to try to pass Newgarden, while Dixon couldn’t do so on either Hunter-Reay or Newgarden. And, neither driver went longer in their final stint – Dixon was actually the first of that group to pit, doing so on Lap 43, with Hunter-Reay and Newgarden pitting together one lap later.

And Newgarden pulled away in the final stint, winning by over three seconds, leaving Hunter-Reay and Dixon to finish second and third.

It was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow, with Hunter-Reay noting that he felt like he had enough to challenge for a win.

“I felt like we had the pace for (Newgarden), especially in the first two stints,” he asserted. “I really felt like it was going to be a really good race between us. Whether it be first, second, third, fourth stint – I didn’t know when it was going to come.”

He added that, if he could do it over again, he would have been more aggressive and tried to pass Newgarden in the opening stint.

“In hindsight, I should have pressured him a bit more in the first stint,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “We were focused on a fuel number at the time. Unfortunately that Penske fuel number comes into play, can’t really go hard.”

Dixon, meanwhile, expressed more disappointment in the result, asserting that qualifying better would have put him in a possibly race-winning position.

“I think had we started a little further up, we could have had a good shot at trying to fight for the win today,” he expressed.

The disappointment for Dixon also stems from the knowledge that his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda had the pace to win, especially longer into a run.

“The car was pretty good on the long stint,” he asserted. “I think for us the saving grace was probably the black tire stint two. We closed a hefty gap there. We were able to save fuel early in the first stint, which enabled us to go a lap longer than everybody, had the overcut for the rest of the race.

“I think speed-wise we were right there. Had a bit of a crack at Hunter-Reay on his out lap on the last stint there, but cooked it too much going into (Turn 14), got a bit loose, lost momentum. That would have been really the only chance of passing him.”

Dixon remains in the championship lead, however, by 45 points, while Hunter-Reay moved up to second, tied with Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi.

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