No. 1 seed Matt Kenseth opens Chase with Chicagoland win

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Matt Kenseth took the lead from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch off a restart with 22 laps to go and went on to claim his sixth checkered flag of the season in the Chase-opening GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway – a race that had its start delayed by more than an hour and also featured a red flag period of more than five hours because of rain.

After the extended red flag, only the diehards remained on a chilly Sunday night to see Kenseth once again prove his prowess on the intermediate ovals. With tonight’s triumph, the former Cup champion now has four wins this season on 1.5-mile tracks, which are a major component of the ten-race Chase.

Coming to the restart, Kenseth was second but was able to keep up with Busch on the inside. When the pack got to Turn 1, Kenseth was helped from behind by Kevin Harvick, and was able to get past his JGR compatriot. That would prove to be the big moment of the race, as Busch was unable to reel Kenseth back in.

“I thought with the conditions tonight, we were going to be off a little bit but [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] did it again, as well as this whole team behind me,” Kenseth said to ESPN in Victory Lane.

“We gotta thank Kyle and [teammate] Denny [Hamlin] as well – we had a really good test here last week and it really showed up today. Also, Kevin gave me a great push on that last restart…We were a little too tight there at the end, and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get Kyle. But I’m glad we got it out front.”

Kyle Busch also chalked up Kenseth’s winning pass to Harvick as well.

“That’s 1,600 horsepower versus 800,” he said. “…Kurt [Busch] didn’t get a good enough restart to push me forward and keep us side-by-side going into Turn 1. But they beat us, and it’s a great night for Joe Gibbs Racing to start the Chase like this.”

Harvick would go on to finish third, with Kurt Busch rallying for a fourth-place finish after falling down a lap earlier this afternoon because of a pit road speeding violation. Jimmie Johnson had his own issues on pit road today, but was able to come home fifth.

“The next-to-last run, we got ourselves back in the thick of things and unfortunately, we just didn’t have the speed there for the final segment to go race for the win,” Johnson said. “But from a jack failing to the call on pit road with the lug nut not supposedly on – a variety of issues – it was a great comeback.”

Jeff Gordon fell a lap down thanks to a flat rear tire following a restart with 95 laps to go, but was able to catch a yellow late and then charge to a sixth-place result. Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the two lone non-Chase drivers in the Top 10, followed in seventh and eighth respectively. Clint Bowyer squeezed out a ninth-place finish, and Ryan Newman wound up 10th.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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