It has finally arrived. NASCAR made it to Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, and that meant just one thing: the Chase is here. This year, the expanded 16-driver field may have 10 races to determine a champion, but it only takes three races to take that field from 16 down to just 12. And, NASCAR decided to make it easy to find the Chase drivers when they are going full-throttle around the track.
All 16 Chase drivers have a Sprint yellow front splitter that extends up the nose. The roof number is the same color, and on the windshield, where the driver’s name and car manufacturer are located, those have been made yellow as well.
It sticks out very much, and those 16 drivers are going to be competing hard to keep those colors on their respective cars for the entire 10-race Chase.
I say entire 10-race Chase because after three of those races, the Chase field will reduce to just 12 drivers. After six races, it’s down to eight, and after nine it will be a four-man run for the championship. In that final race, the champion will be the driver that finishes the highest. Compared to last year’s Chase, this one feels more like a playoff series like what is done in the NFL or other sports. It has an elimination process just like those sports, but in a way there’s a reprieve for a few of those drivers that have that one bad race during any round.
Here’s what I mean. In each of the rounds, if a Chase driver wins a race, it means an automatic berth in the next round, no questions asked. Win, and you’re in; that means in the opening race of the Chase a driver could blow an engine, such as what happened with Aric Almirola, and the next week win the race and lock into the next round. Or, as in the case of Brad Keselowski this week, a driver could win the first race of the round and the pressure to advance to the next round is already gone.
The new Chase format in a way can be compared to the NFL. The Challenger Round is like the Wild Card races, the Contender Round is the divisional playoff, then the Eliminator Round is the conference title battle, then when Homestead arrives, that’s the title race, or the Super Bowl.
Win, you’re in. Lose, you possibly are done. Welcome to the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup. The title run begins now.
RESULTS: 1-Keselowski 2-Gordon 3-Larson 4-Logano 5-Harvick 6-Hamlin 7-Kyle Busch 8-Kurt Busch 9-McMurray 10-Kenseth
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Earnhardt Jr. 12-Johnson 13-Kahne 15-Newman 18-Stewart 20-Edwards 22-Allmendinger 23-Biffle 41-Almirola
CAUTIONS: 6 for 28 laps. Lap 68-72 (Debris-T2), 100-104 (Debris-T4), 182-186 (Debris-T3), 232-237 (Debris-BS), 246-249 (#15 Accident-T2), 259-261 (#17, 10 Accident-FS).
LEAD CHANGES: 18 among 7 drivers. Kyle Busch 1-28, Gordon 29-39, McMurray 40-44, Gordon 45, Keselowski 46-47, McMurray 48-68, Gordon 69, Kyle Busch 70-87, Gordon 88-100, McMurray 101-106, Keselowski 107-150, Harvick 151-227, Larson 228, Almirola 229-230, Larson 231-248, Harvick 249, Larson 250, Harvick 251, Keselowski 252-267.
TIME OF RACE: 2 Hrs, 48 Mins, 50 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 142.330 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 1.759 Seconds
CHASE FOR THE SPRINT CUP: 1. Keselowski, 2059 points*; 2. Gordon, -7; 3. Logano, -10; 4. Harvick, -12; 5. Earnhardt Jr, -17; 6. Hamlin, -18; 7. Kyle Busch, -18; 8. Johnson, -18; 9. Kurt Busch, -20; 11. Kenseth, -25; 12. Kahne, -25; 12. Edwards, -29; 13. Newman, -30; 14. Allmendinger, -34; 15. Biffle, -38; 16. Almirola, -52.
*Qualified for Contender Round