Team Penske 1, Hendrick Motorsports 0.
Brad Keselowski has punched his ticket to the second round of the Chase following a victory at Chicago in the opening race of NASCAR's postseason. Keselowski used a strong restart with just nine laps remaining and blistered the field for a second consecutive win and his fifth of the season.
Coming into the Chase, much of the talk surrounding the new Chase format was who would win between Penske and Hendrick. Keselowski not only put a stamp on the postseason already, but also put Penske ahead in the early going.
Despite missing the Chase last season, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion looks the part of a title contender yet again. Nate Ryan of USA Today points out the similar trend for Keselowski to his 2012 run:
Keselowski collected the checkered flag, but it was the race behind him that captivated NASCAR fans.
Both Jeff Gordon and Kyle Larson had a shot at winning the race but battled the contention just to finish second. Gordon was the eventual winner in that skirmish, but Larson earned respect from the No. 24 driver, per New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
NASCAR vice president Brett Jewkes also noted his thoughts on the rookie driver:
With the first Chase race now in the books, here's a look at the finishing order and updated Chase Grid:
|NASCAR at Chicago Results|
|11||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||0|
|14||Martin Truex Jr.||0|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||0|
|2014 Sprint Cup Chase Grid|
|Pos.||Driver||Points||Wins||Top 5||Top 10|
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2042||3||11||16|
|NASCAR.com (*clinched spot into Contender Round)|
*Full results can be found at NASCAR.com.
Early struggles for one Chase contender on Sunday hurt his chances dramatically.
Kurt Busch, who earned a spot in the Chase field by virtue of a win, had an issue on pit road that caused him to plummet down the leaderboard. Marty Smith of ESPN points out the spin for Busch:
Geoffrey Miller of Athlon Sports added his thoughts on the driver:
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has experience as the 2004 champion and showed it yet again on Sunday. Despite the early woes, Busch rallied back to make his way to the top 10 before finishing eighth.
Prior to the run back into the contention, Busch referenced the issues during the race, per Dustin Long of Motor Racing Network:
Another Chase driver who scuffled throughout the afternoon was Kasey Kahne.
The final Hendrick driver to make the Chase saw his hopes dashed during the opening race with damage to his car. Fox Sports: NASCAR noted the drop for Kahne following the mishap:
While the No. 5 machine fell well short of expectations, he was able to finish the race and inside the top 20. Aric Almirola, a fellow driver with an outside chance, wasn't quite as lucky.
Almirola made the Chase thanks to a rain-shortened win in Daytona earlier this season. But he was running sixth late in the race before an engine malfunction caused him to head to the garage.
The Richard Petty Motorsports driver spoke about the issues following the issue, per Smith:
Jenna Fryer of The Associated Press also passed along some reaction:
An outsider in the Chase coming in, Almirola was in need of a strong run early to simply make it to the next round. Any hope for the driver looks bleak now without a win in the next two races.
The late accident that caused a caution involved both Danica Patrick and boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Patrick spoke about the wreck following the race, per Richard Allen of RacingWithRich.com:
Patrick and Stenhouse's accident gave Keselowski a chance to take the lead, where he would stay to finish the race.
The second Chase race takes place next weekend with the Sprint Cup circuit heading to New Hampshire. Keselowski won the last event held at the track in July after leading 138 laps in the Camping World RV Sales 301.
Penske may be looking for a victory, but with the Hendrick duo of Jimmie Johnson and Gordon both holding three wins at the track, either could win a Chase race in New Hampshire.
Only 12 spots will be filled, with several drivers still looking to earn their spot. Just two races remain before the Challenger Round comes to a close, so the action on the track will heat up yet again next weekend.
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