Monday, September 19, 2011

Rating the GEICO 400: 2 Stars **

Tony Stewart won his first race of the season at Chicago for the third time in his career Monday, but this time it started a possible championship run in the Chase. The first race at Chicago to start the Chase gets a 2 Star Rating.

This race was a combination of the entire season wrapped up in one race. There was another different winner, the 16th different winner of the season, it was a fuel-mileage race, it was run at least a day later than scheduled and Kevin Harvick nearly came out of nowhere for the win.

While nobody dominated the race, it still didn’t feel like a lot of drivers had a chance to win the race. Even when fuel mileage could have caused a surprise winner to roll into Victory Lane, it still felt like only a few drivers had a chance to win.

Maybe that was because nearly the entire top 10 was filled with Chase drivers for much of the race. Eight Chase drivers finished in the top 10, and that was with several drivers coasting to the finish line with empty gas tanks.

That, of course, is why those drivers and teams are in the Chase. They are the best in the sport, and they showed up ready to race at Chicago.

These teams weren’t huge factors in the races leading up to the Chase, particularly teams that had already clinched a Chase berth. But, they waited until the Chase started and put together strong, consistent races where they could challenge for the win.

Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin all finished outside of the top 20, but the only team that should be really concerned after Monday’s race is the #11 team of Hamlin.

The other three drivers fell victim to fuel mileage, and while those lost points might hurt them later in the Chase, the overall performance of the #11 team was troubling.

Hamlin got into trouble early in the race with a vibration and then hit the wall late in the race to finish off his day. The #11 team simply is not competing at the same level it did not only a year ago, but for the past few years.

Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in points the past three years, and would’ve won the championship last year if he would’ve run a clean final race at Homestead.

Instead, he spun out early in that race and hasn’t recovered since. One would think this team would be capable of turning the switch once the Chase started, but this team has sputtered all season. It has a few good races but then comes back with two terrible races.

Hamlin has some major work to do if he is going to be relevant in this Chase. His chance to contend for the championship could already be over.

So, next week it’s on to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Hopefully the weather returns to the beautiful racedays we had in the first half of the season.

With as competitive as the Chase teams were Monday in Chicago, racing luck could be what separates the field this year even before Talladega comes along to stir the pot one final time.


  1. Very generous jmayer...

    One heck of a way to start what is supposed to be a great Chase... Probably the most boring race of the year and guess what? We've got four more of these cookie cutter tracks coming up to wade through. Nice...

  2. Dwindy1 - Kansas could be brutal again, but Charlotte and Texas are generally entertaining, and Homestead always gets overshadowed by the championship situation. Nobody cares as much about the quality of racing there. After the race we all start thinking about Daytona anyway, lol.