With Chicagoland Speedway kicking off the Chase for the Sprint Cup, drivers gave it their all to start the post-season properly.
Ryan Newman, a Chase contender led the Coca-Cola Racing Family with a 10th-place finish at Chicagoland, leaving him eighth in the Chase standings.
Greg Biffle, another Chase contender, finished 16th after having a rough time in the pit. He currently sits 11th in the standings, right in front of Joey Logano who also struggled at Chicago.
Being the youngest driver in the Chase, as well as the Coors Light Pole winner, Logano wanted to make a good first impression in the post-season. Instead, he started experiencing engine issues around Lap 176 and eventually had to head to the garage. He finished 37th and now stands 12th in Chase points.
A roundup on the Coca-Cola Racing Family in order of how they finished at Chicagoland:
Ryan Newman (No. 39)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: Coming off of what was one of Newman's best finishes this season at Richmond, his time at Chicagoland was not wasted. Bouncing back from the recent penalty drama with MWR, Newman gave it all he had at Chicago to prove that he belongs in the Chase. Starting 20th in the 43-car field, Newman worked his way through the crowd, leading for one lap, and eventually finishing 10th. This marks Newman's 13th top-10 finish this season. Before the rain fell, Newman started off with a tight-handling condition. After the five hour rain delay, Newman's handling conditions did a 180 and he struggled with being loose off the exit of corners. He currently sits 8th in the Chase standings after jumping up four spots.
Quotable: "I'm happy to come out of here with a top-10 finish tonight. Track position was really important. We were stuck in the back of the pack for a while and couldn't really get going. Every time I got up behind someone, I'd just get so tight I couldn't do anything with it. Matt (Borland, crew chief) got us position with a couple of two-tire stops, and once we were up front, we were able to make a little more of it. Our Quicken Loans Chevrolet was definitely better on the long runs."
His standing: Newman eighth in the standings with 2,035 points.
Outlook: Newman heads into New Hampshire knowing that he did well at Chicago, but there is still room for improvement if he wants a shot at the Chase cup. In his last go-round with Stewart-Haas Racing, Newman entered the first race of the 10-race Chase seeded 12th among the 13 Chase drivers, 15 points behind No. 1 seed Kenseth. Newman leaves Chicagoland in eighth, 28 points behind Chase leader Kenseth.?
Greg Biffle (No. 16)
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford
Recap: After taking 12th at Richmond and qualifying for the Chase, Biffle struggled at Chicagoland. Starting out in seventh, he quickly experienced problems on restarts and on pit road. Eventually finishing 16th, Biffle dropped back four spots in Chase standings and now sits 11th, behind Kasey Kahne.
Quotable: "That was a rough night. We had major issues in the pits. I don't know what happened. We started from the back a few times and it is really hard to get track position to pass. Our car was pretty good but every time we got ourselves worked up there, something happened. Something broke. I thought the motor broke but it must have been something on the exhaust system. We were down quite a bit of power the last 100 laps. We just tried to keep our momentum up. The restarts just killed me. I just didn't have the power on the restarts. Once it stretched out a little we were pretty good and could keep up. It was really tough. We were hit and miss a little bit tonight. This wasn't our best night but we pulled off a 16th place finish. Everybody kept working hard. That isn't the way we wanted to start but we had a pretty fast car at times."
His standing: Biffle is 11th in the standings with 2,032 points.
Outlook: With one win under his belt at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2008, Biffle knows he needs to finish at least in the top 10 in order for him to show any positive movement in the Chase standings. He currently sits 31 points behind leader, Kenseth. With nine races left in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Biffle still has a chance to make an impact in the standings.
Tony Stewart (No. 14)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: Stewart missed his sixth consecutive race this past weekend and watched Mark Martin pilot his No. 14 Chevrolet to a 17th-place finish after starting in the 29th position. Stewart is still nursing his broken leg and won't return in 2013. He returned to the track, though, in a motorized scooter and contributed as best he could.
His standing: Stewart is 23rd in the standings with 594 points.
Danica Patrick (No. 10)
Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet
Recap: Danica Patrick finished 20th at Chicagoland after starting off in 23rd. Patrick drove a smooth race and sat as high as 16th at one point. Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 12 spots behind Stenhouse. She moved up one spot in the standings and has 497 points.
Quotable: "I thought it was all right. We weren't the fastest car out there, but we were decent and relatively consistent. At the beginning of the year, top-20s were the goal based on last year and we had to readjust that a bit, but now that's kind of where we're falling in with things. The cars are getting better, and I'm learning things. It's going in the right direction. I'd like it to go further, but I'll take any progress."
Her standing: Patrick is 26th in the standings with 497 points.
Outlook:Last time Patrick was at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway she didn't finish. It could be a challenge for Patrick to hold onto her momentum from Chicagoland and finish in the top 20 again.
Denny Hamlin (No. 11)
Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota
Recap: Hamlin just can't seem to catch a break. Finishing 33rd at Chicago, and 21st at Richmond a week prior, the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Office Camry is starting to get frustrated with his outcomes.
Quotable: "Just can't finish a race. Motor ran terrible all day and then blew up at the end. Hard two months, I mean it's just unbelievable, even when we have a decent run going, just can't finish."
His standing: Hamlin is 26th in the standings with 496 points.
Outlook: Obviously, Hamlin would rather be in the Chase than out of it. But the lone positive to not qualifying for the postseason is that the No. 11 team can try some new, out-of-the-box setups in the final 10 races. The Generation-6 car has been a difficult adjustment for Hamlin, so the lessened implications down the home stretch may be a blessing in disguise.
Joey Logano (No. 22)
Penske Racing, Ford
Recap: Logano wanted to start off on the right foot in his first ever Chase for the Sprint Cup. Being a first-timer in the running, Logano sealed his lead position by winning the Coors Light Pole and even led 32 laps. That was until the five hour rain delay, and after that, it was all downhill for Logano. After dramatically falling back in positions, Logano eventually had to head to the garage for what was diagnosed as engine issues. He ended up finishing 37th in his first Chase race and dropped six spots in the standings to 12th.
Quotable: "I am pretty angry. That was such as fast race car we had. After the rain delay we came in and put on four tires and lost some track position but we were going to take two on the next one, kind of like the 24 did and he cycled out to the lead there. Unfortunately the motor blew up. You have these every once in awhile. It is a bummer to have it in the Chase when you are running for a championship. I feel like Chicago was one of those tracks we could win at. Everyone was doing the right thing. We have a really fast race car and we put it on the pole and led laps today, it just wasn't our day I guess."
His standing: Logano is 12th in the standings with 2,011 points.
Outlook: Logano can't let this setback crush his Chase dreams. As he heads into New Hampshire, he should feel confident knowing that he's already won once at this track in 2009 after starting 24th. Although Logano dropped significantly in the Chase standings this week, he still has nine races to make up for the challenges that he faced at Chicagoland.
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