After a regular season that ended in turmoil with an extra driver added to the Chase while sending one driver packing for not doing anything wrong and yet keeping another in the playoffs that did break the rules, they finally got around to racing. However, that wasn’t easy either as several hours of rain delays pushed the daytime event into night at Chicagoland Speedway. Afterwards, there were blown engines and several twist and turns that finally saw Matt Kenseth win in Chicago. So who didn’t manage to do well and is already likely out at this point?
I’ll give you two guesses who's out but if you saw the race to its drawn out conclusion, you probably have it figured out. What’s surprising about these two drivers is one comes from a top-line team while the other came into the playoffs as arguably the hottest driver there and was a darkhorse pick to win it all. They both succumbed to blown engines, likely the result of a faster track with cooler conditions and the long waiting time that is never good for race motors.
The most popular driver in NASCAR is Dale Earnhardt Jr. who finished 35th at Chicagoland Speedway after blowing up with less than 50 laps to go. That devastating result leaves Junior 53 points back of first place. The hottest driver in Cup was Joey Logano; and, to prove he was ready to attack this championship with momentum, he grabbed the pole for Chicago. Yet, a little bit of smoke forced him to limp around until the motor finally let go about two-thirds through the event. Logano finished 37th which puts him 52 points back of Kenseth who is the points leader by eight over his teammate Kyle Busch. Jimmie Johnson rounds out the top three just 11 back.
Part of the problem for these two drivers is they are now more than a full race behind and when combined with the fact that 11 of the best drivers in NASCAR are ahead of them, the math just doesn't add up for making any charge to the front of the standings.
This is too bad for the giant fanbase that is Junior Nation and also for those rooting on Joey who, along with being hot, is coming from an organization last year that won the title: Penske Racing (with Brad Keselowski).
Two others hanging on
Greg Biffle finished 16th but with still nine races to go, he theoretically can still win the championship even though he’s 31 points back. Kasey Kahne is in the same shoes as the Biff’ at 31 markers back but since he has a knack for winning, certainly it’s too early to rule him out of the Chase.
Some might say that the top three is where the championship will come from but it’s too early and any one of the other six drivers not discussed here can go on a tear and grab the top spot.
However, for Earnhardt Jr. and Logano, their dreams of winning the championship went up in smoke … literally.
Sources: NASCAR, Racing Reference