The pressure in the Chase can do one of two things: it can either cause a lot of issues, and make nerves run short because of any incident. Or it could be taken head on, because one has been in that position before, and it doesn’t bother them.
At Chicagoland, there was no shortage of pressure, drama, and controversy. Last year’s champion, and a six-time champion, locked horns on the track, with the former suffering the most of the two.
A title hunt that started with promise, now is in jeopardy of ending before it ever began.
It spilled over into the garage, with very little coming of it except an agreement to disagree.
Yet that wasn’t all, the late caution changed the entire complexion of the finish, as the teams that hoped to gain an advantage on the final restart. No tires…two tires…four tires…stay out, what was the right call. Right away, the beating and banging began, and those that stayed out were sitting ducks. The teams fell back, while others gained.
When the smoke cleared, the one who won it, he did so while injured.
Already suffering from a torn ACL that occurred in a basketball game early in the week, Denny Hamlin decided to wait until the Chase was done to have surgery, since possibly doing so before could mean no racing for a while. He already ran into trouble on the third lap, spinning in the third corner. However, unwilling to yield, he waited, and the team did their job when called upon.
His run to the finish on the final restart put him in front, capturing the checkered flag, the second win of the season for the No. 11, and moving him on into the second round of the Chase.
Not one writer had Hamlin on their radar for the victory, however each one started their Chase in fine fashion. Each writer pulled off a top-10 run, making the points tighter than they were entering the title picture. It was an insane start to the Chase, and in the Pool, it just got more interesting.
Here’s where we stand after the first race in the Challenger Round, the myAfibRisk.com 400:
Patti Rodisch (2052) Ryan Newman finished 4th – 4
Rob Tiongson (2052) Matt Kenseth finished 5th – 4
Sal Sigala Jr. (2049) Matt Kenseth finished 5th – 3
Dustin Parks (2045) Brad Keseowski finished 8th – 3
Rob Blount (2045) Joey Logano finished 6th – 2
Kara Martin (2045) Joey Logano finished 6th – 2
Misan Akuya (2043) Kyle Busch finished 9th – 2
Ashley McCubbin (2040) Kyle Busch finished 9th – 1
Mary Jo Buchanan (2040) Kyle Busch finished 9th – 1
Klarissa Mitchell (2036) Brad Keselowski finished 8th – 0
Next Race: Just one race in and the real Chase has already taken on a major shift, as last year’s champion is already in position to be knocked out. He already wanted to knock out a six-time champion, the one who caused him to be in that position, so anything is possible now as the second of three Challenger Round races approaches.
Harvick now needs to find some magic, and could find it at the Magic Mile. Up next is the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and the shortest race of the entire Chase.
Writers, your picks are required to be different this week, as your quest for a championship continues. Be locked in by Thursday, September 24, at 10 p.m. ET for the Sylvania 300.