How the 16 drivers fared in Sunday’s Chase opener

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JOLIET, Ill. – Sunday’s opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup was good for 12 of the 16 contestants, as they dominated the top-15 finishers in the MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

But four others struggled and find themselves in a hole heading into the second race of the Chase.

Brad Keselowski, who came into the Chase as the No. 1 seed, retained that position with his come-from-behind victory.

Fellow Chaser Jeff Gordon finished second, followed by Joey Logano (4th), Kevin Harvick (5th), Denny Hamlin (6th), Kyle Busch (7th), Kurt Busch (8th), Matt Kenseth (10th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (11th), Jimmie Johnson (12th), Kasey Kahne (13th) and Ryan Newman (15th).

The only non-Chase drivers to finish in the top-15 were third-place finisher Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray (9th) and Martin Truex Jr. (14th).

More: Keselowski surges between Harvick, Larson to win Chase opener at Chicagoland

But it was not the kind of start that four other Chase entrants sought, and they now find themselves in a hole heading into the second race of the Chase next Sunday at New Hampshire.

Richard Petty Motorsports’ Aric Almirola suffered the worst fate, finishing a disappointing 41st.

The motor in his Ford blew up with 37 laps remaining, ending a day that saw Almirola’s No. 43 climb into the top-10 several times during the race.

As a result, Almirola is in the biggest hole. He leaves Chicago in 16th position, 23 points out of 12th-place, which he needs to reach by the end of the third Chase race in two weeks at Dover, lest he be eliminated as the playoff moves into the second round at that point.

Three others also had bad days, but not quite as bad as Almirola.

Greg Biffle finished 23rd and is now 15th in the Chase standings, nine points out of 12th.

AJ Allmendinger finished one position higher than Biffle in 22nd, is in 14th in the standings and is five points out of 12th.

Carl Edwards, meanwhile, finished 20th and is 12th in the standings.

Newman is now 13th in the standings, one point behind Edwards.

The next race is Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Chase for the Sprint Cup standings after Race 1 of 10:

1 Brad Keselowski
2 Jeff Gordon -7 points
3 Joey Logano -10
4 Kevin Harvick -12
5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. -17
6 Denny Hamlin -18
7 Kyle Busch -18
8 Jimmie Johnson -18
9 Kurt Busch -20
10 Matt Kenseth -25
11 Kasey Kahne -25
12 Carl Edwards -29
13 Ryan Newman -30
14 AJ Allmendinger -34
15 Greg Biffle -38
16 Aric Almirola -52

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Jack Miller wins MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his points slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.