Monday, March 10, 2014
By JIM UTTER The Charlotte Observer
JOLIET, Ill. - After a week's worth of controversy and a day's worth of racing, Matt Kenseth held serve.
Matt Kenseth (20) drives past Jimmie Johnson during the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race Sunday en route to victory at Chicagoland Speedway. Johnson finished fifth.
The Associated Press
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, N.H.
Kenseth, who entered the Chase for the Sprint Cup as the No. 1 seed, cemented his position with a victory in twice rain-delayed GEICO 400 Sunday night at Chicagoland Speedway.
Kenseth passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch on a restart with 22 of 267 laps remaining and cruised to his sixth win of the season.
Kyle Busch finished second, Kevin Harvick was third, Kurt Busch was fourth and Jimmie Johnson ended up fifth.
Finishing sixth through 10th: Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman.
It appeared for most of Sunday dark clouds would continue to hover over NASCAR.
The start of Sunday's race -- the first of 10 to decide the champion of the Cup series -- was delayed an hour-and-a-half by rain and then halted again by rain after completing just 109 laps.
The race finally resumed at approximately 10 p.m. -- after a delay of more than five hours.
Pole-winner Joey Logano led the first 22 laps until NASCAR called a competition caution to allow teams to check their tires for wear. Johnson took over the lead on Lap 34 following pit stops.
NASCAR's new restart policy got its first test as Kyle Busch -- who was second -- beat Johnson to the start/finish line and was credited with leading a lap, which is one point toward his Chase total.
Johnson quickly retook the lead on the next lap.
Teams began a round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 76 and the first controversy of the race cropped up.
When then-leader Johnson pit under green on Lap 77, the NASCAR official assigned to Johnson's pit initially signaled a lug nut had been left off a wheel. One lugnut did have an issue but the pit crew member Calvin Teague quickly was able to correct it, even before the official could signal everything was good. The delay cost Johnson some valuable time in the pits and when he resumed his spot on the track he had dropped from first to fifth.
"The official thought there were only four on there. We all make mistakes," said Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus.
Once the cycle of pit stops was completed, Kenseth emerged as the race leader on Lap 84. Kurt Busch was penalized for speeding on pit road during his green-flag stop and fell a lap down early.
Rain came quickly and brought a halt to the race after Lap 109. Once the race resumed to green-flag conditions on Lap 117, Kenseth led the way followed by Johnson and Kyle Busch. Juan Pablo Montoya blew a tire which brought out a caution on Lap 122.
Kenseth continued to lead on the restart on Lap 129. Justin Allgaier got spun by Landon Cassill on Lap 148 to bring out the fourth caution of the race. Logano's car developed engine issues right before the caution and Greg Biffle was penalized for running over equipment while making a pit stop. Jeff Gordon was the first off pit road and took over the race lead on Lap 153.
Debris in Turn 4 brought out a caution on Lap 169. During a round of pit stops, several cars got together on pit road, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne, Harvick and Dave Blaney. Just after the restart, Gordon fell off the pace and was forced to pit under green with a flat tire.
Then, on Lap 176, Logano's engine blew up, bringing his race to an early end and bringing out the seventh caution of the race.