From Junk to Gold, Denny Hamlin Wins the Chase Race at Chicagoland

The first NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup race is in the record books. Denny Hamlin has won the 400 at Chicagoland Speedway capping off a weekend that didn’t start out the way it was intended.

On Friday, the number eleven FedEx Ground Toyota hit the track for the first practice full of hope but unable to get out of its own way. Dave Rogers, Hamlin’s crew chief, made wholesale changes to the car prior to qualifying. Qualifying was canceled due to rain and his troubles in that one practice were magnified because the field was set by practice speeds. Denny Hamlin would have to start the race today 29th, the last of the Chase drivers.

Rogers said, “We did have a lot of adversity.  You know in the Chase you’re going to have adversity, it’s going to strike.  We’ve been talking about it, been trying to mentally prepare for it.

In Saturday’s practices it was apparent that the team was able to fix whatever was wrong with the No. 11. Hamlin was the second fastest in the first practice and seventh fastest in the final practice. A great improvement but he still had his less than desirable starting position to contend with.

Indeed, his starting position became a problem right from the start. On lap two, the No. 47 AJ Allmendinger car got into the right front of Hamlin’s car, sending him for a spin. He was able to save it and not get hit by any other cars so there was little or no damage. He did go a lap down.

On lap 130 just after a restart on lap 128, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin used strategy to try and get their laps back by staying out and not pitting. This was a risky strategy given the lack of caution flags in the beginning of the race and record pace the leaders had been setting. That strategy paid off on lap 137 when Kevin Harvick hit the wall hard after cutting down a tire; this put both of them on the same pit strategy and tires with the other lead lap cars.

There was a caution flag with ten laps to go and Hamlin’s team had confusion whether to pit or not. He ended up staying out, what at the time looked like a disastrous move. Denny Hamlin restarted third and drove it like he stole it taking Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon three wide. It stuck and he held them off for the three laps even though he had older tires.

It was ballsy, but I’d been stuck so many times three-wide in the middle. The front cars almost have a disadvantage to the back cars the way it all plays out.”  Hamlin added “We got a great restart and I just held it wide open through (turns) one and two and it stuck. We were able to get in that clean air and take off.

Denny Hamlin has tied Chicago Area Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen for 27th on the all-time wins list with 26 wins.

Carl Edwards finished second followed by Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth.

Denny Hamlin has now punched his ticket straight to the next round of the Chase, The Contender Round. The team can now use the next two races to continue to get better for the next two rounds.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for

Feature Photo Credit: 312813 Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images

Kyle Busch Wins the Furious 7 300 at Chicagoland Speedway

The NASCAR Xfinity Series came to Chicagoland Speedway to run the Furious 7 300. This race is their eighth to the last race of the season and the Championship is on the line.

Kyle Busch in the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota won the Coors Light Pole earlier in the day and led the field to green. His teammate Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Reser’s Main Street Toyota started alongside. Right from the start it was apparent that they were going to battle it out the entire race for the win.

Kyle Busch led the about the first quarter of the race only to give the lead to Kenseth for the second quarter. They continued leading each quarter like they were just playing with the field. They were not playing with each other though Kenseth made a serious charge on the second to last lap and they swapped the lead back and forth until the last lap when Busch held on to  win the race. They lead a combined 186 laps of 200 with Busch leading 102 of them.

We had a very fast Camry here. Can’t say enough about Chris Gayle (crew chief). All the adjustments we made all night long to make the car better and better.” Busch added, “That battle with Matt Kenseth, I don’t know. I thought when I got to him and I got clear of him and I drove away by a second-plus it was over and I can breathe a little bit and I tried to go back up to the top and I was loose up there. I just had to battle through that and try to beat him – he was right there.

The No. 54 Monster Energy Car has swept both Xfinity races at Chicagoland in 2015 with the June race being won by Erik Jones.

Kyle Busch extends his series winning record to 74 in 305 NASCAR Xfinity Series races. It is his fourth victory and eighth top-10 finish of the year in spite of missing eleven races due to his injury at Daytona. It is also his fourth victory at Chicagoland Speedway.

In the after the race inspection the No. 54 car was found to be too low in all four corners. Penalties, if any, will be given by NASCAR on Tuesday.

Chris Buescher finished seventh and has now increased his lead in the standings by four points to 25 over Ty Dillon. Chase Elliott dropped to third from second in the standings three points behind Dillon.

Darrell Wallace Jr. finished third and is the highest finishing rookie of the race.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for

Feature Photo Credit: 312785 Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Kyle Busch Wins the Pole for the Furious 7 300 at Chicagoland Speedway

The NASCAR Xfinity Series is running the Furious 7 300, a companion event with the other three series at Chicagoland Speedway. Kyle Busch will start up front.

It doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who watches the Xfinity Series regularly that Kyle Busch is fast. This is his 46th pole in 305 Xfinity Series starts, his third this year. He has a 12-year streak from 2004 to 2015 of consecutive poles.

Kyle Busch has already won three races this year in this series in spite of missing eleven races due to his injury in the first race at Daytona International Speedway. Eric Jones won the race here in June in this car.

Kyle Busch said, “I’m ready to go back to Chicagoland with the No. 54 team, especially considering their finish there with Erik (Jones) in the spring. JGR has always had good cars there and Chris (Gayle, crew chief) will work hard to dial in our Camry. This Monster Energy No. 54 team can definitely get back to victory lane at Chicago and maybe sweep the year.

It will be an all Joe Gibbs Racing front row as Busch’s teammates Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 and Daniel Suarez in the No. 18 will be starting second and third. Rounding out the top five is Ty Dillon and Ryan Blaney.

If you cannot get to Chicagoland Speedway for the Furious 7 300 it will be broadcast on NBCSN on Saturday September 19th starting at 5:30 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for

Feature Photo Credit: Brian Berg Jr.

John Hunter Nemechek gets his First Win at Chicagoland Speedway

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series had an eventful weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. John Hunter Nemechek and his whole Chevrolet team persevered, bringing home their first win in the series.

On Friday it was expected that it may rain out qualifying so the first and only practice took on an even more significance as it may end up setting the starting positions for the race. Nemechek driving the Number 8 Chevrolet was only the eleventh fastest. When rain did in fact end qualifying, he started eleventh. The race was originally scheduled to run on Friday night but the race was canceled by a torrential downpour.

When the race was finally run on Saturday morning, Nemechek hung around the top ten the entire day getting as high as fourth. It didn’t look like he would be a factor to challenge Kyle Larson or Johnny Sauter, who collectively lead 101 laps of 150, for the lead.

There was a long caution flag from lap 83 to 95 after Mason Mingus got into the wet grass, went airborne and littered the track and pit road with debris. Just before the field went to green, Gere Kennon, the Crew Chief, called Nemechek to pit road to top off with fuel. Many of the other leaders did the same except while they were racing; he was saving fuel like he was told to by his Crew Chief.

With 22 laps to go the strategy that Gere Kennon had for John Hunter Nemechek started to play out. The No. 8 was in the seventh position, then each and every driver ahead of him pulled to pit road to put in fuel until finally on the second to last lap Kyle Larson ran out of fuel. Nemechek led only the most important lap of the race, the last one, to win his first race of his career.

Yea it’s definitely an amazing feeling. I was a little bit frustrated with our Crew Chief Gere Kennon on that last stop he told me to pit. We had to fix the left side Romeo window.” Nemechek added, “I really didn’t want to go to the back because track position was key and everything but we got to top off there coming to one to go. He kept telling me to save fuel, save fuel that last run and that’s what we ended up doing. I ran out coming out of turn four so that was definitely great strategy that he had worked out in his mind I should know never to doubt him.

It is hard to believe that John Hunter Nemechek, who is 18 years, 3 months and 8 days old is not the youngest winner ever. He is the fourth youngest winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series History. Cole Custer, Erik Jones and Chase Elliott were younger when they won.

Erik Jones leads the point standings by ten points over Tyler Reddick. Matt Crafton is third one point behind Reddick. John Hunter Nemechek was the highest finishing rookie.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for

Feature Photo Credit: 312761 Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

NASCAR Sprint Cup Qualifying is Rained Out at Chicagoland Speedway

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series came to Chicagoland Speedway to kick off the Chase to the Sprint Cup. With the weather man predicting rain at the end of the day prior to qualifying many of the teams cut practice short to run qualifying runs. Unfortunately the weather man and the teams were correct and the rains did come.

In practice, Kevin Harvick was the class of the field in his mock qualifying run posting a time of 28.675; 62/100 faster than Joey Logano. Harvick was the only driver to get into the 188 MPH level. Since qualifying was canceled the lineup will be started according to the rule book and Kevin Harvick will lead the field to green this Sunday with Joey Logano alongside.

As expected most of the sixteen Chase Nation drivers were fast and at the front of the leaderboard. Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. will be in the second row. The other Chase drivers are as follows: Ryan Newman 6th, Kyle Busch 7th, Kurt Busch 10th, Jeff Gordon 11th, Jimmie Johnson 12th, Matt Kenseth 13th, Jamie McMurray 14th, Carl Edwards 15th and Paul Menard 17th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin had trouble during practice and will start 20th, 27th and 30th respectively. Of those three, Denny Hamlin appeared to struggle the most. When Hamlin’s crew got him ready for a mock qualifying run it did not help. He remained 30th quick. Later in the garage they were making wholesale changes to the car, even changing the rear axle. Fortunately for those teams there is another practice on Saturday to work on making those cars better.

Ryan Blaney and the #21Wood Brothers Ford will miss the race for a third time due to rain. Blaney would most likely made the race on time had there been qualifying. Michael McDowell #95 and Travis Kvapil #30 will also miss the race.

If you cannot get to Chicagoland Speedway for the 400 it will be broadcast on NBCSN on Sunday September 20th starting at 3 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for

Feature Photo Credit: 312735 Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images

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