A look at the winners and losers from the recently completed NASCAR weekend at Chicagoland Speedway:
Justifiably, Brad Keselowski is going to get the bulk of the headlines for his victory Sunday, but let's not forget that it was Jimmie Johnson who dominated at Chicagoland. Starting from the pole, the 48 Lowes Chevrolet led a total of 172 laps and left with a runner-up finish. That dominance sent a loud message to the garage that Johnson and his team are primed to seriously challenge for their sixth Sprint Cup Series championship.
For those who don't qualify for the Chase the final 10 weeks of the year can be tough to deal with, as the attention is focused almost exclusively on the guys who are racing for the title. Yet on Sunday, three non-Chasers - Kyle Busch (finished fourth), Ryan Newman (fifth) and Joey Logano (seventh) - did their part to steal away the spotlight, as all three were fixtures in the top 10 and left with very respectable results.
Poor track position and bad luck combined to make Sunday a challenging day for Tony Stewart. However, despite the numerous setbacks, the defending series champion still managed to leave the Windy City with a sixth-place finish. And that result keeps him very much in contention as he is just eight points out of the lead heading to Loudon - a track where he has a win and two seconds in his last five starts.
Roush Fenway Racing
Roush Fenway Racing historically has excelled on the intermediate tracks - including this year where Greg Biffle has twice been victorious (Texas and Michigan). And with half of the tracks in the Chase being of the 1.5-mile variety, the thinking entering the playoffs was this area of strength would play into the advantage the Roush cars supposedly had.
However, at Chicagoland this wasn't the case, as all three Roush cars couldn't keep pace with the Hendrick Chevrolets. More troubling is the fact that all three drivers - Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth - failed to finish in the top 10, giving little hope that a Ford driver is going to snap Chevrolet's streak of seven consecutive championships.
Denny Hamlin didn't have a car capable of winning this past weekend. But what he did have was a Toyota good enough to finish somewhere in the top 10 - which would have been a more than adequate way to begin the Chase.
However, the inability of his crew to get all the fuel in his Toyota saw Hamlin run out of gas on the white flag lap and slide back to 16th in final rundown. And you would think after the painful way this team let the 2010 title slip away, they would be more mindful and recognize the importance of minimizing mistakes. But if Hamlin does what he said on Twitter, and goes out and wins at Loudon, all will be forgotten.
There was hope that the Gil Martin returning as crew chief would rejuvenate the 29 team and turn Kevin Harvick back into the championship contender he was the past two seasons; especially after Harvick posted consecutive top-10s at Atlanta and Richmond. But after being virtually invisible Sunday and finishing a nondescript 12th, it's hard to think Harvick will be anything more than an afterthought in the Chase.