Joe Gibbs Racing delivered three strong cars to Chicago for today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. After all three teams ran inside the top ten for the majority of the race, it was Kyle Busch leading JGR’s efforts at the end with a fourth-place finish, while Joey Logano crossed the line in seventh. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin, who entered the day as the point leader in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, ran well all day and appeared certain for a top-five finish, but ran out of fuel on the final lap and fell from seventh to 16th at the finish.
Busch qualified the No.18 Doublemint Toyota 21st on Saturday afternoon, but wasted little time in improving upon that starting position as he climbed into the top 15 over the first 20 laps of the race and entered the top 10 by lap 40. A great stop by the 18 crew would allow Busch to move up into the seventh position following the first round of green flag pit stops and when the first caution came out on lap 66 he would be racing in sixth. Busch would opt for four tires on that first stop under caution and restarted 11th, but was able to drive his way into the top five and was running fourth when the next caution came out on lap 100. From that point on Busch would battle for a spot inside the top five. A two-tire stop on lap 190 would help with track position but left his car tight on the run and he would lose a few spots as he dropped back to sixth with 50 laps to go. As the field cycled through a final round of green flag pit stops Busch would race in the seventh position but quickly moved back into fifth. He would gain one more spot on the final run to finish fourth.
Logano qualified the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the 10th position and was able to drive up into the eighth position through the early laps and then moved into seventh by lap 40. A great stop by the Dollar General crew on the first round of green flag pit stops on lap 45 would move the No. 20 Camry into the fourth position and he would hold onto that spot when the day’s first caution came out on lap 66. Logano would race inside the top five for the majority of the race with a two-tire stop on lap 190 allowing Logano to restart fifth on lap 195. He would grab the fourth spot once again on the next run before pitting with 39 laps to go. As the field cycled through a final round of green flag pit stops Logano would race in the ninth position. He would manage to gain two more spots on the final run to finish seventh.
Hamlin, entered the night as the top seed in the Chase and qualified his No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota in the eighth position for the start of today’s race. Hamlin was able to quickly slide into the top five, but tight handling conditions on entry and through the center of the turns limited his ability to continue his move to the front and he would settle into the fifth position. As they have done all year the FedEx crew put together another great pit stop during the first round of green flag stops and once the field had cycled through Hamlin was racing in third on lap 50. The tight conditions would see Hamlin fall back to fifth again, which is where he ran on the day’s first caution came out on lap 66. The team would make the call for a two-tire stop that allowed him to restart third, but the car became too tight once again on the next run and Hamlin fell back to ninth. Hamlin would work his way just outside the top five but a caution just after a green flag stop by the 11 team would leave him a lap behind the leaders and force him to take the wave around to restart 12th on lap 158. Crew chief Darian Grubb would make the call for four tires while pitting under caution on lap 190 while many of the other leaders made the decision to take just two. That left Hamlin to restart ninth, but he was fast on the next run as he drove up to fourth with 40 laps remaining. As the field cycled through on a final round of pit stops Hamlin would race in the 10th position and was able to drive up into the seventh spot despite saving fuel at the same time when Grubb informed him they were not able to get the car completely full on the final stop. Hamlin tried to maintain his position while saving fuel but with one lap to go he would radio in that he was out of gas causing him to fall from seventh to 16th.
Brad Keselowski would capture the victory, with Jimmie Johnson second, Kasey Kahne third, Busch fourth, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five. There were four cautions for a total of 23 laps and 16 lead changes among nine different drivers.
Hamlin is now fourth in the point standings, 15 points behind the leader Keselowski. Jimmie Johnson is second, three points behind the leader, while Tony Stewart holds the third position, eight points out.
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships moves next week to New Hampshire for the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Live broadcast coverage by ESPN starts at 1 PM ET (race begins at 2 PM ET). Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90 will also provide live coverage.
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