After a controversial filled week, the focus finally returned to what was happening on the track and the first race of this year's Chase. And as expected, the cream rose to the top at Chicagoland as Chase drivers dominated the proceedings. All but nine of the 267 laps were led by Chasers and when the checkered flag waved, they held the top six positions at the finish and eight of the top-10 overall.
1. Matt Kenseth (Last week: 1)
Considering Kenseth led the most laps, went to Victory Lane for a season-best sixth time and holds the points lead this is as straightforward as it gets.
2. Kyle Busch (LW: 2)
It's only one race, but a runner-up finish at Chicagoland is huge for Busch. It's the best he's ever placed in an opening Chase event and, sitting second in points it's also the highest he's been this late in the season.
3. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 3)
A pair of mistakes on pit road was too much for Johnson to overcome. First was an incorrect ruling by an official who thought a lugnut had been left off the 48 car. This was followed by a broken jack on a later stop. That Johnson was still able to finish fifth was impressive, but you get the sense the points he lost Sunday could easily come back and haunt him later.
4. Kevin Harvick (LW: 4)
Lost in the dominance of Joe Gibbs Racing Sunday was Harvick crossing the line in third. And it's worth noting with four races still left on 1.5-mile tracks that he's the only non-JGR driver to win on a mile-and-a-half this season (Charlotte).
5. Kurt Busch (LW: 6)
An impressive rally by Busch to finish fourth, who was dinged for speeding early on and fell a lap down. However, it's those self-inflicted mistakes that have hindered the 78 team all season and a large part why Busch has yet to win a race this year despite several close calls.
6. Carl Edwards (LW: 4)
While he was lacking speed it also didn't help that old tires and poor restart cost Edwards several positions late. Although he finished 11th, it's hard to think the 99 team will be much of a factor unless it sorts out its issues on the mile-and-a-halfs -- Edwards has just one top 10 in seven starts this year.
7. Kasey Kahne (LW: 7)
A stoic Kahne did everything he could post-race to hide his true feelings after getting ran into on pit road. But it was evident he was not pleased and knows he left a lot of points on the table at Chicagoland.
8. Clint Bowyer (LW: 8)
After the week he had where he was continually pressed on his actions at Richmond and whether he deserved to be in the Chase, Bowyer had to be elated to leave Chicago with a ninth-place run.
9. Jeff Gordon (LW: 11)
When he stepped out of his car after a hard-fought and well-deserved sixth, Gordon had the enthusiasm of a rookie, which was a sight to behold. He was smiling, fist pounding his crew and was stoked about his chances to contend for a fifth series title, which Gordon genuinely believes he can win.
10. Ryan Newman (LW: 12)
The consensus among many drivers is that New Hampshire is going to be struggle and will separate the field. But if there is someone who has to be anticipating the challenges that the one-mile track brings it would be Newman. In 23 career starts he owns three wins and had 15 top-10s in 23 starts and was fast in July before a wreck, not of his own doing, knocked him out.
11. Joey Logano (LW: 9)
After securing the pole and leading the first 32 laps, it was a race that began with such promise for Logano. But a couple of dropped cylinders later and an engine that eventually quit altogether and he suddenly finds himself buried in the standings.
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LW: 10)
Chicago is one of those races where Earnhardt has to lament that he's no longer sponsored by a beer company. First was the incident where he smashed the grille of his Chevrolet when some slower cars jammed up pit road. His frustrating night was capped off by an engine that seized up and left a plume of smoke emanating from his car that resembled the smoke used to inform the masses that a new Pope has been elected.
13. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 13)
The pronouncement that he would be reinserted into the Chase never came. Instead, Truex was forced to watch NASCAR take the unprecedented step of naming Gordon as the 13th Chase participant, which only compounded his disillusionment. And it probably didn't help that he wasn't much of a factor Sunday, and finished a quiet 18th.
14. Greg Biffle (LW: 14)
Sloppy pit work combined with a broken part in his motor put Biffle in a hole he couldn't climb out of and he limped to a 17th-place finish. Then again, at least he was able to salvage a decent result and keep his title hopes alive for another week.
15. Brad Keselowski (LW: Unranked)
The highest finishing driver among the non-Chasers placed seventh. And Keselowski's competitiveness underscores that if there is a driver who will play the role of spoiler in the next nine weeks it will in all likelihood be the defending Sprint Cup champion.