Race No. 1 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is in the books. During the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, the championship standings seesawed. When the checkered flag flew after an overtime restart, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher were found in the bottom four.
Qualifying for the 267-lap race was cancelled due to weather so the grid was set by owners’ points standings.
Buescher started 13th and finished 28th. “It was a long day,” the No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford driver said in a Ford Racing transcript. “We worked hard to try to get it better. I am proud of the guys for not giving up. We had a decent day on pit road and didn’t get into anything, we just couldn’t keep the track position out there. Not the finish we wanted but we will get a little better and go get Loudon.”
Although Buescher is currently in danger of elimination, the pressure has not increased. “It isn’t any different on pressure. Obviously we care about where we are at but we are trying to get all we can get. I promise you that,” he said. “That is how we will attack it at Loudon, the same way if this was a top-10 day or where we ended up. We will go to Loudon and give it all we can.”
Larson had to start at the rear of the field after a transmission change was made on the No. 42 Coke Chevrolet. “I was just being patient, starting from the back to get to the front,” Larson told NBC. “I got close to the top five and ran fifth to eighth for the rest of the race.”
Throughout much of the race, he remained within the top 12 in the Chase standings but with only six laps to go, Larson fell to 15th. “We just had a handful of laps on our tires and the right front came apart so I jetted down pit road and went a lap down and finished a lap down with 10 to go,” Larson explained. “I guess there were issues down pit road with other teams. I think the No. 78 had an issue earlier in the race, but nothing with our team, our tires were great the whole time. I didn’t run hard that run because whoever was behind me was way behind me so I was just taking it easy and had the right-front (tire) problem.”
After finishing 18th in yesterday’s race, Larson is two points away from moving on to the Round of 12. He has room for improvement but believes the next track will be difficult.
“New Hampshire’s not great for me, the last couple years anyway. In 2014, I was I was really good there but lately, I think with the less horsepower I’m not as good there,” he said. “That was going to be our worse track probably throughout the 10 races so not excited about that one after today’s race. I’d have been looking forward to going there with a top 10 (at Chicago). I think 18th is not great but we have Dover after that, which is a good track for us.”
Austin Dillon left Chicago sitting 13th in the playoff standings after a 14th-place finish on the board when the checkered flag waved. The driver of the No. 3 Dow Packaging Chevrolet remained in the bottom four throughout the duration of the race.
“This Dow Packaging Chevrolet was pretty good today,” Dillon said in a Richard Childress Racing post-race report. “We just never got the track position needed to contend. I would have liked the race to run green at the end because if we wouldn’t have had that (final) caution, I believe our finish would have been better.“
Dillon is still confident he can improve on yesterday’s result.
“In this Chase format, every single position matters,” he said. “I’m looking forward to New Hampshire and Dover the next two weekends in order to get ourselves in a position to advance to the next round.”
Harvick ran into a little trouble in the first race of the Chase. The driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet came to Chicago ranked fourth in the playoff standings and was scheduled to start fourth on the grid. However, the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion had to start at the rear of the field after unapproved adjustments were made on the car.
Throughout the majority of the race, Harvick was in the bottom four in the Chase standings. With 19 laps to go, he had jumped into the top 12 on NBC’s ‘points-as-they-run’ ticker. When the final caution came out, which was followed by an overtime restart, Harvick fell out of the Round of 12 and ended the day in the top 20.
Two more races remain in the Round of 16 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway. Four drivers will be eliminated from championship contention after Chase race No. 3, the Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover.