1. Brad Keselowski: Keselowski won the Geico 400, taking round 1 of the Chase For The Cup after holding off Jimmie Johnson at Chicagoland. Keselowski leads the point standings, three ahead of Johnson.
“I’m aiming to be Roger Penske’s first Sprint Cup champion,” Keselowski said. “Nothing beats flying the checkered flag, except the ‘Jolly Roger.’
“This could be the making of a great rivalry with Johnson. I took it to him; now I want to take it from him.”
2. Jimmie Johnson: After starting from the pole, Johnson led a race-high 172 laps but couldn’t close the deal at Chicagoland, finishing second to Brad Keselowski’s late rush. Johnson now trails Keselowski by three in the Sprint Cup point standings.
“Keselowski’s win had the makings of a ‘statement’ victory,” Johnson said. “Luckily for me, Keselowski doesn’t make statements, he makes ‘tweets.’ Kes has hundreds of thousands of followers; I’m not one of them. I only follow two people—Richard Petty and dale Earnhardt.”
3. Tony Stewart: Stewart overcame a poor qualifying effort (29th), as well as an extra pit stop to correct a vibration, to finish a solid sixth in the Geico 400, a solid start to his defense of the 2011 Sprint Cup title. He trails Brad Keselowski by eight in the point standings.
“The vibration was a potentially disastrous situation,” Stewart said, “but we handled it like champions. You could say we were ‘shaken, not stirred.”
4. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin ran out of fuel late in the Geico 400, turning a likely top-10 finish into a 16th. The result dropped him from the top spot in the point standings to a tie for fourth, 15 behind Brad Keselowski.
“What’s the bigger miscalculation?” Hamlin asked. “Me running out of gas, or people predicting me to come through when the pressure’s on? I had to make a late stop to ‘top off.’ For that reason, I’m ‘off the top.’”
5. Kasey Kahne: Kahne finished third in the Geico 400, and leaped five spots in the point standings to fourth, where he is 15 points out of the lead.
“I think my competitors are aware that I’ll be around until the end,” Kahne said. “Despite leaving a number of racing teams in my career, I think it’s apparent that I won’t ‘go away easily.’”
6. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer led six laps at Chicagoland on his way to a tenth-place finish. He is now 15 points out of first in the point standings.
“We could have used a dose of 5-Hour Energy,” Bowyer said, “because that was a ‘ho-hum’ finish.”
7. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.: Earnhardt qualified fourth, but started at the back of the field after an engine change, and salvaged a solid eighth in the Geico 400. He is 17 points behind Brad Keselowski in the point standings.
“I guess it’s time I show what I’m made of,” Earnhardt said. “You’d think the name alone would be enough, but I guess I have to prove it as much on the track as I do in the merchandise trailers.”
8. Martin Truex, Jr.: Truex posted his 15th top-10 finish of the year with a ninth at Chicagoland, but made up little ground to the Chasers in front of him. He is now ninth in the point standings, 21 out of first.
“I need a win,” Truex said. “In other words, I need to get going. NASCAR just reinstated A.J. Allmendinger, so maybe he can recommend a good ‘stimulant’ to get me going.”
9. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth finished 18th, one lap down to the leaders, after a broken shock ruined his quest for a victory run at Chicagoland. He
“We’re certainly disappointed in our shock failure,” Kenseth said. “Such a finish is tough to swallow, and even harder to absorb.”
10. Greg Biffle: Biffle finished 13th, tops among Roush Fenway’s three car team. After leading the point standings for much of the year, it was a disappointing start to the Chase for the 3M team.
“We certainly weren’t on our game,” Biffle said. “I guess you could say for the start of the Chase we were ‘off and running.’”