Finally, a Mile and a Half track that produces a great race with exciting competition and good racing throughout the day. There were three different Heat winners with Almirola, Harvick and Busch each winning one. Couple that with a wild finish that would make Dale Earnhardt Senior and Darrel Waltrip proud as punch. This was a kick that NASCAR needs to try to bring back some of its lost audience. Once again the Toyotas and the Fords remain dominant on the 1.5 mile tracks, with only two Chevys in the top-10. However Larson was competitive all day, giving hope that the Chevy teams are starting to get a grasp on the areo packages associated the Camaros. Of note and still a mystery is the total absence of the Hendricks team cars and the dynamic duo of Jimmy Johnson and Chad Knaus. Chase Elliot ran in the top-10 all day until a dramatic fall off after the final pit stop. They obviously missed something in the final setup. Elliot after finishing third and second in his last two starts at Chicago, dropped to 19th for the race. He still has yet to win his first CUP Victory in his short 2½-year Cup career.
Steward Haas still looks to be the dominate team through the half way point and all of their cars continue to run strong. Gibbs is keeping the Toyotas in the hunt with no real presence from the Chevrolets other than Kyle Larson. That all being said, the story of the day was the last two laps of the race. As he has done throughout his career, Kyle Busch just kept tinkering with his setup and each stop dialed the car in just a little better after Harvick had been dominant most of the race and really didn’t fall off as much as Busch just picked it up. Then straight out of the catalog of “Rubbing is Racing” we get an outstanding final lap that features Kyle Larson trying to protect his lead and a charging Kyle Busch saying, not on my watch. It appeared that Busch was going to try to run him clean and pass him on top. Larson slides up to block or slow momentum and in doing so he runs Busch into the wall. At that point the “OK we’re gonna’ do it that way” light came on in the 18 car and we all knew what was coming next. I jumped up on the edge of my couch to watch the fireworks and there was no disappointment. We all saw the 18 run down the 42, stick his bumper in the tail where it would do it’s best work and we have a genuine NASCAR finish, one that would make any France family member proud. (I gotta tell you these ending are fun, unless it’s your driver who’s on the losing end of this deal.(Elliott and Hamlin last year.))
The finish was good for all parties involved except the 42. However Kyle handled it with sportsmanship. He went to shake Kyle Busch’s hand with a wry grin on his face, he knew he had been dealt cards he deserved and just proclaimed that, “it’s just good hard NASCAR Racing”. That’s the injection the sport needs to draw back its fan base and interest. NBC was a big winner too. They open their portion with one of the best finishes of the season and they now are heading to Daytona for a wild Restrictor Plate race where anything can go wrong, and usually does. Back to back competitive races draw the interest needed, as the run to the playoffs begins and the battles heat up to produce a win or the necessary points to secure a coveted spot. The Playoffs start September 16 in Las Vegas with the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway being the last opportunity to win your way into the battle. Still only six drivers are assured of filling the group of 16, thus points and finishing positions are becoming more critical with each race. If they stay as competitive as this race was in Chicago it should be a great second half of the season. As of this point Hendricks is not guaranteed putting a car in the playoffs and they are not showing much in terms of improvement. That in itself will elevate the competition.
Stay tuned, it’s starting to get busy out there. Now it’s on to Daytona.