Engine troubles ended Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano’s night early at Chicagoland on Sunday, dropping the two drivers to 12th and 13th in the standings.
Heading to New Hampshire for the SYLVANIA 300 and the second round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup fight, Logano and Earnhardt sit 52 and 53 points, respectively, behind points leader Matt Kenseth.
And guess what: Big deal. There’s plenty of Chase left; just ask Jimmie Johnson.
While those in Logano and Earnhardt’s camps might sound the alarms, the drivers should at least find solace in that Johnson started off the 2006 Chase on a rather sour note, finishing 39th in the first Chase race, which coincidentally was in New Hampshire. The lackluster showing dropped him from second to ninth in the standings, in a year where there were only 10 Chase contenders.
As everyone knows, Johnson rebounded after the opening race to capture the first of his record five consecutive titles on the strength of one win and four runner-up finishes in the last nine races. It was the worst finish in the first Chase race by an eventual champion.
In 10 starts at the 1.058-mile oval, Logano has one win (June 2009) and four top 10s. The win was the Connecticut native’s first trip to Victory Lane in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Earnhardt has collected seven top fives and 11 top 10s in 28 starts at the track, his best finish a third in September 2004.
Clearly, Earnhardt and Logano would have preferred a strong start. History indicates a top-10 finish in Chase race No. 1 is ideal for championship hopes. The average finish in the first Chase race for the eventual champion is 9.0, with seven of the previous nine eventual titlists finishing in the top 10.
Here’s the breakdown:
2004 – Kurt Busch – Won, New Hampshire
2005 – Tony Stewart – 2nd, New Hampshire
2006 – Jimmie Johnson – 39th, New Hampshire
2007 – Jimmie Johnson – 6th, New Hampshire
2008 – Jimmie Johnson – 2nd, New Hampshire
2009 – Jimmie Johnson – 4th, New Hampshire
2010 – Jimmie Johnson – 25th, New Hampshire
2011 – Tony Stewart – Won, Chicagoland
2012 – Brad Keselowski – Won, Chicagoland