Top Chase Seeds Need Chicago Boost
No time to waste.
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ is a sprint, not a test of endurance.
That’s why Sunday’s GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (2 p.m. ET, ESPN, MRN Radio, SiriusXM Radio) could loom crucial among the 10 events comprising this year’s Chase.
Since becoming the postseason’s opening race, the GEICO 400’s two winners – Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart – went on to capture the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Kurt Busch also won the Chase opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway en route to the 2004 title.
This year’s top three seeds – Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch – have a total of one win at the 1.5-mile track located in Joliet, Ill. Busch, the No. 3 seed with 2,012 points, won in 2008 but has posted an average finish of 19.0 in four subsequent starts.
No. 1 seed Kenseth’s last Chicagoland top-10 – a seventh – also came in 2008. The 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion who enters the Chase with 2,015 points, hasn’t had much luck since, averaging a finish of 18.75 from 2009-2012.
Johnson, in pursuit of a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title, has done everything but visit Chicagoland’s Victory Lane. The No. 2 seed with 2,012 points finished second in last year’s race – the Californian’s third runner-up performance among six top-five and nine-top 10 finishes in 11 Chicagoland starts.
Johnson, however, enters this year’s Chase lacking momentum. His most recent four finishes – 40th, 36th, 28th and 40th – are significantly worse than comparable performances of his five championship seasons which included at least one top 10.
Johnson remains the Chase’s top winner with 22 victories in 90 races – 17 more than Kenseth and Kyle Busch’s combined total.
Five drivers who failed to qualify for the Chase in 2012 made this year’s cut. They are Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards (No. 4 seed), Joey Logano (No. 9), Kurt Busch (No. 10), and Ryan Newman (No. 12). Logano is the only first-time Chase participant among this year’s qualifiers.
Last year’s qualifiers failing to repeat are 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr.