With a name like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400, Sunday’s race had to be action-packed.
And it was.
Although it only had four cautions (two of them for accidents), there was plenty of close competition and jostling for position. What else could you expect from the first race of the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup?
If the race winner happened to be a Chase participant, he would automatically punch his ticket for the second three-race round of the postseason. So, this race was extremely important for those 16 drivers in the Chase.
This, however, didn’t detract from the 24 other drivers who hoped to play spoiler.
There were 17 lead changes among 9 different drivers. Of the drivers that spent time at the point, seven of them were Chase contenders.
Kyle Busch started the race on the pole and led the first 21 trips around the 1.5-mile track before giving way to eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr.
Busch never made it back to the front but still finished respectably in eighth place. Truex led twice for a total of 32 of 270 laps. He led Laps 22 through 51 and the final two laps of the race.
During the final caution period that was called for a Michael McDowell accident in Turn 4, Truex edged out rookie phenom Chase Elliott coming off of pit road. Elliott was leading when they came onto pit road, but a slight mishap during a four-tire change caused his car to be tenths of a second behind Truex coming of pit road.
Under normal conditions, Truex would have taken the lead once back on the track; however, three drivers running in the front pack didn’t pit and were now in the first three positions.
Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Ryan Blaney was at the front of the field for the restart. Once the race turned back to green, Truex, who was positioned fourth, wasted little time in jumping to the front to take his third win of the season — matching the total number of wins he had heading into the season. It was also his first Chase win and first at Chicagoland.
Truex, his team and car, however, made headlines shortly after the conclusion of the race for failing post-race inspections. Just last week NASCAR reviewed its penalty structure and decided that any infractions that were large variations from the acceptable measurements could result in more consequences that just the normal fines and points deduction.
In Truex’s case, this means NASCAR could have decided to strip the New Jersey of his automatic berth in the second round. The variance is so minute, however, that he and his team will likely escape only with a points reduction and fine. We should know something definite on Wednesday.
The top 10 finishers in the race behind Truex were Joey Logano, Elliott, Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Alex Bowman.
Although Truex won the first Chase race, did the impending penalties affect his standing in Lionel Racing’s Power 10? After struggling for most of the race a lap down, did Kevin Harvick’s 20th-place finish have an impact on his firm grasp of the top spot? With Elliott once again fighting for the win late in a race, did he bounce back into the Power 10?
Find out the answers to all these questions and more in this week’s edition of Lionel Racing’s Power 10.
(Note: Only the 10 drivers receiving the highest average rankings are shown. The number of spots they’ve moved since the previous Power 10 are shown in the parentheses.)
1. Martin Truex Jr. (+3): It doesn’t matter if he was penalized or not, Martin put himself in position to post his third win of the season and that’s good enough for the top spot in our Power 10.
2. Brad Keselowski (–): Brad’s good. Brad’s really good. After another top-five finish, I would say he’s probably in the best position to win another championship.
3. Chase Elliott (NR): No doubt there were a lot of frustrated fans when the last yellow flag flew. All they want to see is Chase take home a win before the end of the season.
4. Kyle Busch (-1): After starting on the pole, I thought the Chicagoland race was going to be just another race that Kyle dominated from green to checkered. Guess I was wrong.
5. Denny Hamlin (–): Although he has three wins on the season, Denny is quietly putting together a season in which he could be hoisting the series trophy at season’s end.
6. Joey Logano (+2): I’ll be honest; I watched the race and forgot Joey was running second at the end. Although he was eclipsed by Truex and to some degree Elliott, he shouldn’t be overlooked … ever.
7. Kevin Harvick (-6): His struggles throughout most of the race and his inability to get back on the lead lap are indicative of Kevin’s fall from the top spot in this week’s Power 10. Wait until next week.
8. Jimmie Johnson (+2): He finished with a race-high 118 laps led and finished 12th. Can you hear that? It’s Jimmie getting revved up just in time for the Chase.
9. Kurt Busch (-2): Kurt needs another win or top-five finish to put him safely in the top 12 so he can move on to the next round. Fortunately, he has three wins at Loudon — the series’ next stop.
10. Carl Edwards (-1): Carl is another driver who could sneak up on the rest of the field and leave them all wondering what just hit them and stole the title right from underneath their noses.