Fresh off his win at Daytona, Stewart was in the running to possibly challenge the dominant No. 5 car of Mark Martin at Chicagoland. But a pit road mishap, in which Stewart left without a lug nut, and a subsequent flat tire, cost him important track position.
Still, Stewart finished fourth in the No. 14 Chevy, sporting the Office Depot "Back To School" paint scheme. It was his 15th top-10 finish of the year, and he now leads Jeff Gordon by 175 in the point standings.
“I kicked it ‘Back To School,’” Stewart said, “but Martin kicked it ‘Old School.’”
“Let’s be honest. No one was going to catch Martin. Not in this day and age. Or should I say, ‘Not on this day and at his age.' The man’s a machine, and a force to be reckoned with. I pray that when I’m fifty, I will be like him. But that seems unlikely, not because of my lifestyle, but because I don’t pray.”
“As for Kyle Busch’s continuing accusation that I dumped him at Daytona, well...I’m sorry he feels that way. He left me no other option, though. Clearly, my Office Depot Chevrolet was the better car."
"There’s an unwritten rule in this sport, and I’m not talking about NASCAR’s drug policy. Block once for the lead and it’s okay. Block a second time; it’s not okay. That’s when I sent Kyle out of the lead. You could say he was ‘Office Deposed.’”
Gordon used a late four-tire pit stop as the impetus to wrest the runner-up spot in the Life Lock 400 at Chicagoland Raceway, his fifth second-place finish of the year.
Gordon’s advantage with fresh tires was two-fold, allowing him to pass for position, as well as avoid the reckless battle between Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson and Johnson’s budding nemesis Kurt Busch. Alas, tires alone weren’t enough to overcome the impressive car of Mark Martin, who won for the fourth time this year.
“Mark’s the kind of guy you don’t mind losing to,” Gordon said. “With that said, now you know why we got rid of Kyle Busch here at Hendrick Motorsports.”
“It doesn’t matter who you are, you have to be impressed with Mark’s accomplishments, not only as a 50-year-old, but as a driver of any age. It makes me question my own talent. Mark’s driving is like fine wine—they’re both better than mine.”
Johnson led 58 laps at Chicagoland, second only to Mark Martin’s 195, and held the lead on lap 251 until he dropped back after getting loose in traffic, which left him engaged with Kurt Busch’s No. 2 Dodge.
Johnson and Busch made contact at least twice, with Busch then getting the final word with a bump Johnson described as "bodyslamming." Johnson finished eighth, and remained third in the points, where he trails Tony Stewart by 212.
“That’s at least three occasions in which Busch and I have tangled,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a feeling this situation will be ‘coming to a head’ soon. In other words, my fist will be coming to Kurt’s head.”
"I think all drivers have learned that when dealing with Kurt, it's necessary to use restraint. Similarly, in dealings with Kyle Busch and his erratic behavior, we've found it imperative to use restraints."
Martin took the lead in the Life Lock 400 on lap 42 after starting 14th, and led 195 of the final 225 laps to win for a series-best fourth time this year. It was Martin’s third Saturday night win and clearly established him as a Sprint Cup favorite for now, or at least until another 31st or worse finish, of which Martin has six.
Martin jumped two places to 11th in the point standings, 11 ahead of Greg Biffle in 13th.
“Don’t forget,” Martin said. “I also won the first Lifelock 400 this year, on June 14th in Michigan. So, Saturday night at Chicagoland was a case of ‘deja vroom.’”
“I can’t begin to explain how happy I was with the car. We nailed the setup. You know, I told crew chief Alan Gustafson the same thing I told Carl Long, who was outside the track begging for money on Saturday—‘No change.’”
Busch battled variable handling conditions all night in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge. Exacerbating his frustration with that situation, Busch was also irate at late contact with Jimmie Johnson, which was not the first time the two have tangled on the track.
Busch finished 17th, then questioned Johnson’s driving skill.
“Look, if Jimmie wants a piece of me, I just hope it’s not some ear he’s after," Busch said. "There’s precious little of that to go around.”
“But my patience, as well as my driving skill, has been pushed to the limit trying to avoid Jimmie these last few races. On Saturday, I went high to avoid him, then I went ‘Lowe’s’ to remind him that I’m not gonna take it anymore. If I have to get physical, I will."
"I can surely give as good as I get. And, as everyone knows, it’s been all about ‘getting’ for me.”
Kahne finished third in the Life Lock 400, his third top-10 finish in the last four races, to improve from 12th in the point standings to a much safer eighth. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver has a 51-point cushion over Greg Biffle in 13th place.
“As opposed to my finish at Daytona,” Kahne said, “it’s much more satisfying crossing the finish line in one piece.
"That crash at Daytona was a wild one. I rear-ended Kyle Busch with such force that it popped the No. 18 up on the two front wheels. I think that’s known as a ‘Humpy Wheeler.’”
During a caution with about 20 laps remaining, Edwards chose to remain on the track, going against crew chief Bob Osborne’s decision to pit. Edwards gained one spot by staying out, but soon lost that position and many more to cars with new tires. He finished 14th and dropped one spot in the point standings to sixth.
“They may call me Cousin Carl,” Edwards said. “But the fact is, I’m finding it difficult having relations with Victory Circle.”
“I think Matt Kenseth would agree with Bob’s assessment that I’m not a good listener.”
Hamlin posted a solid weekend at Chicagoland, qualifying fourth and finishing fifth, his fourth top-five result in the last five races.
Hamlin, however, was roundly criticized for his driving after a double-file restart with 17 laps to go, in which Hamlin forced his No. 11 Fed Ex Freight Toyota between leader Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers. Johnson lost several positions, while Hamlin and Vickers continued to battle.
“Hey, I object to being called a ‘double-file retard,’” Hamlin said. “Anyway, that’s the kind of action the fans pay to see, and the kind of racing the media likes to write about, assuming they had time after their overdone and superfluous coverage of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.”
“But seriously, ‘E’ is not for ‘Earnhardt.’ ‘E’ is for ‘Excitement,’ which is what my driving delivers. Conversely, if you take away the ‘E,’ you get ‘Fed Ex Fright, which perfectly describes the scare my driving puts into guys like Jimmie Johnson.”
Still seething from his incident with Tony Stewart at Daytona, Busch came to Chicagoland Speedway in a dark mood, and constantly complained about his car’s handling once the race began.
After abusing his team over the radio and abusing his car on the track, the engine of his No. 18 Toyota finally expired on lap 262. Busch finished 33rd, and is now 10th in the points, only 13 points ahead of Greg Biffle in 13th.
“Yeah, I guess my language on the radio was uncalled for,” Busch said, “and I apologize. You know, that kind of language can make a grown man blush, or get you fired from your job as an announcer on TNT.”
“Normally, I wouldn’t give movies starring Tupac Shakur and Janet Jackson one ounce of thought. But my night at Chicagoland was simply a case of Poetic Justice. I quit on my team, then my car quit on me.”
Bogged down by early handling issues, Newman recovered in the second half of the Life Lock 400, scoring a sixth-place finish, his first top 10 since Pocono on June 7th. He held on to seventh place in the Sprint Cup point standings, and trails Tony Stewart by 499.
“Stewart-Haas drivers in the top 10?” Newman said. “That’s old news. You want a story you can really grasp, particularly with two hands? Indy car driver and soon-to-be free agent Danica Patrick visited the Stewart-Haas facilities on Monday. Suffice it to say she got everyone’s attention.”
“Just imagine the marketing possibilities if Danica joined the Stewart-Haas team. You’ve heard of ‘Two Men And A Baby,’ right? Well, I guess that’s what you’d call this team if Kyle Busch joined. But with Danica, we’d be called “Two Men And A Babe.’”