The NASCAR Sprint Cup rulebook is a thick one with plenty of direction for every crew chief and driver to follow and if that is not enough, each track has a few rules of its own. Since there is so much diversity in the size of tracks that make up the schedule, every track seems to have a rule or two that is just used whenever the series stops at that particular track.
Bristol, with its two pit roads, may have the most unusual rule of all when every driver is made to drive through both pit roads any time a stop was made during a caution flag. The rule was intended to keep the playing field level, as NASCAR likes to say, between the drivers pitting on the frontstretch and those on the backstretch.
Brad Keselowski’s sudden move up the track on Jimmie Johnson after the two had exited pit road in turn two at Chicagoland on Sunday proved that there is no apparent written rule on when cars going back on to the track are supposed to blend into traffic. NASCAR reviewed the tape of the move during the race and determined it to be legal even though Johnson said after the race that Keselowski “did cut up early”.
The move didn’t break any “official” NASCAR rule for Chicagoland Speedway, but it raises the question of whether or not the move by Keselowski did cross the line of one of the so-called gentlemen’s agreements between drivers. Apparently these gentle- men’s agreements don’t pertain to the Chase races, especially when so much is on the line.
Keselowski was able to drive away from Johnson and even without the controversial move, it is doubtful that Johnson would have been able to hold him off as Keselowski was easily the best car as the race’s final laps went off the board. Of course, we all know that passing someone can be tough regardless of the track, and there is no doubt with Johnson smelling his sixth title, his Chevy would have been a little wider any time Keselowski attempted a pass.
The win was the fourth of the year for Keselowski and the firstever Chase win of his career. He is now tied with Denny Hamlin with the lead for wins on the year but, more importantly, the trip to victory lane moved him up three spots in the standings to the number one position.
He now holds a three-point lead over Johnson, but maybe the biggest mover of the day among the Chase drivers was Kasey Kahne, who made it into the Chase field by being one of the two wild card drivers. His third-place finish moved him up six spots to the fifth position, only 15 points out of the lead.
The Chase driver that took the biggest hit at Chicagoland was the final driver to actually make his way into the Chase, Jeff Gordon. The four-time Sprint Cup champion maybe drove the race of his life just to get into the Chase field last week at Richmond, only to have his throttle stick on lap 188 forcing him into the wall causing heavy damage that led to a 35th-place finish. He now trails Keselowski by 47 points and even though it is one race, his title hopes took a major blow.
In the Chase it seems that there is always one driver that comes away from a race with the label of being the survivor. That title goes to Dale Earnhardt Jr. for a performance that never saw him actually compete for the win, but his effort was good enough that it will give him another day to actually compete for the title. He qualified fourth but had to start 42nd after his Hendrick Motorsports crew had to change engines before the start of the race. His pit crew gave him great pit stops all day long and he was able to work his way up through the field for an eighth-place finish. The top-10 finish was good enough to keep him in seventh in the standings, 17 points out of the lead.
PIT NOTES: This time last season, Roush-Fenway Racing had no sponsorship for Matt Kenseth for this season. The former Sprint Cup champion competed this season like many of the other teams with several sponsors taking turns with their names on the hood of his Ford. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will pilot that ride in 2013 with 70 percent of its sponsorship needs already signed. Hard to believe that a former champion couldn’t attract sponsors easier than the upstart Stenhouse Jr.
Event: Sylvania 300 Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1-mile oval, 12 degrees of banking in the turns) Date: Sept. 23, 2 p.m. TV: ESPN Radio: PRN Defending Champ: Tony Stewart