Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano's Chase hopes might have gone up in literal smoke Sunday evening at Chicagoland Speedway.
As Earnhardt Jr. was entering turn one at over 200 MPH on lap 226, a big plume of white smoke suddenly erupted from his car, blinding the track behind him. With a fire starting underneath the car and the smoke trailing, Junior spun the car to the inside grass and climbed out as the car cooked like a hamburger on an unattended grill.
Soon after the rain delay, Junior worked his way into the top five, but saw his hopes for a win disappear when he was involved in a chain reaction incident on pit road. The mess -- which happened when drivers simply ran out of real estate as they tried to exit and enter their pits under alternate pit strategies -- busted up the front end of Junior's car. By the time his Hendrick team had finished working on it, the nose of the car had been worked on more than a Hollywood star's face.
Logano's car started smoking well before that. The polesitter had one of the fastest cars during the day on Sunday before rain delayed the race more than five hours, and was still fast once the race resumed Sunday night. However, smoke started coming out the tailpipes of his car. The engine was going sour.
He was able to limp his sick engine around as long as possible, but on lap 177, it emitted its final puff of smoke. It had given up the ghost.
Junior finished 35th and Logano finished 37th, and both drivers are at the bottom of the Chase standings. Logano is 52 points behind Matt Kenseth, who won Sunday night's race, and Junior is 53 points behind in 13th. That's more than entire race's worth of points. Yes, there are nine races to go, but that's a pretty sizeable hole.