From Kevin Harvick swapping his pit crew to Marcos Ambrose announcing he will leave NASCAR at the season’s end, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 14th annual MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Surprising: Brad Keselowski demonstrated his own version of the ‘Drive for Five’, winning his fifth race of the season and scoring the first win for Ford at Chicagoland Speedway.
And with that victory, the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford also punched his ticket to the Challenger round, one step closer to his championship goal.
“We had a great Miller Lite Ford Fusion that I knew from the start would be good but man it was really awesome the last few runs,” Keselowski said. “We really dialed it in and the 2 crew did an excellent job. What a day. Man, I am still pumped.”
“I am so thankful to be here,” Keselowski continued. “God that was sweet.”
Not Surprising: They don’t call him ‘Big Daddy’ for nothing as second-place finisher Jeff Gordon had a fatherly consultation with third-place finisher rookie Kyle Larson after some hard racing between the two in the last few laps.
“He was just giving me some advice there,” Larson said of his post-race chat with Gordon. “He was pretty proud of me. I’m sure there are some things I could have done differently on that restart, like he was telling me; and I’ll definitely know for next time.”
“Oh my gosh, I was having a pretty good time watching Kyle (Larson)and Kevin (Harvick) go at it in front of me,” Jeff Gordon said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought for sure there was going to be a wreck. But that’s just two guys that are wheeling it.”
“I’m really proud of Kyle Larson,” Gordon continued. “Man, what a great effort; such a young talent. I really wanted to see him win that race because I like him, but I didn’t want to see those other guys win it either.”
“This Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet was really solid. The whole team effort was extremely solid.”
After his third place finish, Gordon sits just seven points behind Keselowski in the Chase race.
Surprising: There may be some very interesting conversations between brothers and significant others after the race, especially given the contact between the Busch brothers and between Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
“I got in the corner in bad air and just got in the corner real tight and finally it bit and went down and Kurt (Busch) was on my inside already plugging the hole but I didn’t even know there was room for a car down there,” Kyle Busch said after finishing seventh to Kurt’s eighth place run. “We just got together and luckily we all saved it and salvaged on.”
“I heard my spotter say that the 14 (Tony Stewart) was below me on track, and I didn’t know the 17 (Stenhouse) was there on the high side of the track,” Danica Patrick said. “My spotter took the blame on that one.”
“I just didn’t know Ricky was up there, and I obviously don’t want to hit his car or anyone else with 10 laps to go. I talked with Ricky afterward, and we’re fine. It’s just a tough deal. We finished 19th even with the damage, so it was a decent run.”
Not Surprising: With one team member in Victory Lane, the other member of Team Penske showed his strength by scoring a fourth place finish in spite of an overheating engine that gave up the ghost coming to the checkered flag.
“We hit a piece of debris with about five to go,” Joey Logano said. “I say piece but it was huge. I think it was a tear-off and we got really hot but the car started handling really good when it was on there and we got another spot because of it.”
“We blew up going into three and just had a big smoke screen behind me but I was able to get it across.”
Surprising: The races gods were for once on the side of Martin Truex Jr., who got two laps back late in the race to finish 14th.
“It felt good to get a little lucky,” the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet said. “We were a 15th to 20th place car all day. We could never get track position. The first run of the race was really bad — it got us a lap down early. It took us forever to get back on the lead lap.”
“The key for us today was picking up two laps late in the race,” Truex Jr. continued. “We stayed out as long as we could when other cars pitted under green. And when the caution came out shortly after we were the Lucky Dog. I can’t recall ever picking up two laps that quickly.”
“It’s been a tough year for us with bad breaks so today we got a break that went our way that got us to a decent finish.”
Not Surprising: Heartbroken cannot even begin to describe Aric Almirola’s day at Chicagoland. The driver of the No. 43 Eckrich Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports had his Chase chances all but dashed as he finished 41st after an engine failure.
“Heartbroken I think is the easiest way to describe it,” Almirola said. ““I think the motor just let go. We rarely have any engine issues at all. It happened but we had a lot of horsepower while it lasted.”
“We will regroup and go to Loudon and Dover and try to be spectacular,” Almirola continued. “We have to win. That is it. There is no other option. We have to go and figure out how we can win one of the next two races.”
Surprising: ‘Mr. Consistent’ Matt Kenseth made a surprisingly uncharacteristic mistake, spinning on pit road coming in for a pit stop.
“We just weren’t very good today,” the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota said. “Just a struggle, we showed a lot of speed most of the weekend but just could never get it today where I wanted it to be.”
Kenseth finished tenth in the race and also sits tenth in the point standings, 25 points behind Keselowski.
Not Surprising: After blowing up in the Nationwide race, it was no wonder that Denny Hamlin was having thoughts of déjà vu all over again in the Cup race.
“The engine changed tones quite a bit and I was very, very gun shy from yesterday,” the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, said. “Probably a little more spooked than what I normally would be.”
“It held together. Overall, pretty happy with our performance. Just got to get a little bit better.”
Hamlin finished sixth and is 18 points behind leader Keselowski in the Chase race.
Surprising: Jimmie Johnson, who usually lights up during the Chase, was surprisingly and conspicuously quiet. The six-time champ discretely finished the Chicagoland race in the twelfth spot and now sits eighth in the standings, 18 points behind the leader.
Not Surprising: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was not alone in hoping that the next two tracks will be better for his championship chances after an eleventh place finish.
“This has been a tough weekend,” the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet said. “We weren’t very good in practice. I was really, really concerned.”
“We didn’t have a good car at all,” Junior continued. “But I feel like this team can run for 11th on its worst day. That will do it.”
“That will get us through the next round until we get to some tracks that maybe we run a little bit better at, or tracks that suit us a little bit better.”