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).
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
Follow me @JerryBonkowski