Observations• Whether or not it had anything to do with NASCAR’s new Chase format, Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race probably was the best in Chicagoland Speedway’s relatively short history. Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano all were able to pass cars as they had to battle from the back of the field – some more than once in the race. Combine that with Keselowski’s daring three-wide pass on Lap 252 of 267 to take the lead for the last time, and certainly fans saw plenty of good racing Sunday.
• Rookie Kyle Larson continues to impress fans, media and perhaps most important, his fellow competitors, with his performance. Larson had to start from the rear of the field Sunday because he wrecked his primary car Saturday but wasted no time in putting himself in contention to win his first Cup race. It will come, likely before the end of the season.
• With 12 of the 16 Chase drivers advancing to the second round, most of the talk leading into the first race was about average finish. But a bad race – like those experienced by Aric Almirola, Greg Biffle and AJ Allmendinger – put them right back into the “win and you’re in” mode for the next two races.
How the Chase drivers fared
1. Brad Keselowski (2,059 points)
Leads the series with five wins and is locked into Round 2 of the Chase.
2. Jeff Gordon (-7)
Continues to show he has a legitimate shot at earning that elusive fifth championship.
3. Joey Logano (-10)
Like Keselowski, Logano had to overcome bad track position to start the race but rallied to finish fourth.
4. Kevin Harvick (-12)
Harvick again led the most laps in a race (79 of 267 this time) but came up short of turning into Victory Lane.
5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-17)
Earnhardt never contended for the win, but his 11th-place finish was a vast improvement of his car’s performance on Friday and Saturday.
6. Denny Hamlin (-18)
A sixth-place finish is just what Hamlin needed for boost of confidence to start the Chase and his first race with crew chief Darian Grubb since July.
7. Kyle Busch (-18)
Tangled on a late restart with his brother, Kurt, but was able to salvage a seventh-place finish.
8. Jimmie Johnson (-18)
The six-time Cup champion never really was in contention for the win and fell back to finish 12th on the last restart.
9. Kurt Busch (-20)
Contact with Kyle on that late restart hindered Kurt’s ability to contend for the win.
10. Matt Kenseth (-25)
Kenseth ran around the top-10 most of the race but never got in position to challenge for the lead.
11. Kasey Kahne (-25)
Was penalized twice for speeding on pit road but rallied to get back on the lead lap and finished 13th.
12. Carl Edwards (-29)
Edwards’ car cut a tire and slammed the wall on Lap 231, which forced him to make an extended trip to pit road. He finished 20th and a lap down.
13. Ryan Newman (-30)
A cut tire and speeding penalty on pit road took him out of contention early, but he managed to salvage a 15th place out of the day.
14. AJ Allmendinger (-34)
Complained about the car’s handling from the start and never was able to make much forward progress. He finished 22nd.
15. Greg Biffle (-38)
Never seemed to have the speed to compete Sunday and finished two laps down.
16. Aric Almirola (-52)
Was running among the top 10 the entire race until his engine blew on Lap 231.
Five key moments
1 . With qualifying rained out, several contenders – including Keselowski and Logano – were buried back in the field and Larson started from the back after wrecking his primary car Saturday.
2 . Harvick led the most laps but had to pit a second time under the first caution because of a loose wheel.
3. Keselowski took the lead for the first time on Lap 108, getting around Jamie McMurray.
4 . While Larson and Harvick battled for the lead on Lap 252, Keselowski drove between them to take the lead.
5 . A late caution didn’t slow Keselowski as he easily held off Gordon to earn his fifth win of the season.