That's Racin Magazine
NASCAR
0 comments

Race Rewind: Looking back at the GEICO 400

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, Sep. 16, 2012

Observations

• Can we please stop with all the questions about whether Dodge will remain as committed to NASCAR and Penske Racing even though it's leaving at the end of the season? The manufacturer has a driver that won the first race of the Chase and leads the points for the first time in his career. And Dodge has a realistic chance to do the equivalent of a walk-off home run and leave the sport at season's end with its biggest prize in hand.

• There were certainly more fans on hand at Chicagoland Speedway than last season (it was a rain delayed race held on a Monday) but the grandstands were at best 70 percent full. That's not necessarily bad although this weekend the speedway had everything in its favor – no Chicago Bears game on Sunday, excellent weather and no meaningful home baseball games. In many ways it was the perfect scenario, including hosting the Chase opener, but in attendance it was underwhelming.

• Kyle Busch, who was roundly criticized earlier this season when he didn't stop for media interviews post-race even when he wasn't required to, was required to Sunday when he finished fourth but TV elected to pass on him. Afterwards, Busch took to his Twitter account to "thank all my sponsors."

How the Chase drivers fared

No. 1 Brad Keselowski, 2056 points

Saturday, Keselowski won as a truck owner, Sunday he earned his first win in the Chase. It's also the first time in Keselowski's career he's led the Cup series points standings.

"It's a good start but a long ways to go,” he said.

No. 2 Jimmie Johnson, -3

Johnson led a race-high 172 of 267 laps but not the one that mattered. His crew chief, Chad Knaus, initially questioned whether Keselowski blended back on to the track correctly after both made their green-flag pit stops.

No. 3 Tony Stewart, -8

Not a win like how he started the Chase last season, but Stewart still managed a respectable finish (sixth) despite struggling at times during the race.

No. 4 Denny Hamlin, -15

Hamlin was set for a top-10 finish but ran out of gas with two laps remaining and ended up 16th. His gas man failed to get all the fuel in his No. 11 Toyota on the final stop.

No. 5 Kasey Kahne, -15

For much of the race, Kahne was the only driver able to keep pace with Keselowski and Johnson but he never had enough to fight for the lead.

“We just couldn't figure anything out to make it better,” he said.

No. 6 Clint Bowyer, -15

Bowyer said he had a decent day, but that's not enough to win a championship. He finished 10th.

No. 7 Dale Earnhardt Jr., -17

Earnhardt had a great qualifying effort but was forced to start at the rear of the field because of an engine change.

He made progress through the race and was running in the Top 10 when he developed a vibration late in the race. He still managed an eighth-place finish.

“Eighth is alright but I know Brad (Keselowski) is going to run well and (Johnson) is obviously going to be tough,” Earnhardt said. “You can't run eighth every week and win the championship.”

No. 8 Greg Biffle, -19

Biffle ran much of the race in or around the Top 10 but after his final green-flag pit stop, he lost the handling on his No. 16 Ford and finished 13th.

No. 9 Martin Truex Jr., -21

Truex's No. 56 Toyota was too tight the entire race but every pit stop his crew made dramatic changes to the car, which helped keep him competitive. He still managed a ninth-place finish.

No. 10 Kevin Harvick, -24

Harvick struggled all weekend and started 35th but he did manage to rally for a 12th place finish.

No. 11 Matt Kenseth, -26

Late in the race, Kenseth developed severe handling problems which neither he nor the team could immediately diagnose.

ESPN showed video of a broken shock on the track. Told of it on the radio by his crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, Kenseth said, “It may be mine.”

No. 12 Jeff Gordon, -47

A stuck throttle and wreck on Lap 188 cut short his day and may have brought an early end to his title hopes.

3 keys to victory

1. Keselowski showed early he had a car capable of challenging Johnson. Keselowski took the lead on Lap 103 and led the next 48 laps.

2. When Gordon wrecked on Lap 188, several teams had yet to make their green-flag stops, including Johnson and Keselowski. They came off pit road first and second, respectively.

3. On the final green-flag pit stop, Keselowski had a flawless pit stop and managed to overtake Johnson and he returned to the track in Turn 2. After that, he pulled away.

Turning point

A final round of green-flag stops began on Lap 228. Johnson went in as the leader but when everyone had cycled through, Keselowski had moved into the top spot.

Things would have been different if …

A late caution would have bunched the field a final time. It's hard to know who would win a straight-up drag race on a restart between Keselowski and Johnson.

Next race

Sylvania 300

Where: New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, N.H.

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

TV: ESPN

Radio: Performance Racing Network

Last year’s winner: Tony Stewart

More racing news, blogs, photos and more at www.ThatsRacin.com.

Disclaimer