After a long week of non-stop press for the 16 drivers that advanced to The Chase, the much-hyped first round of the series ran on Sunday afternoon with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. The race was relatively uneventful – no big wrecks or small dust-ups, or hot-headed drivers intentionally turning other cars… for a change. As a matter of fact, the race only saw 4 caution flags – one for a runaway tire on pit road, one for debris on the track, one for a single car spin and, finally, the last of the day for a single car wreck. In the end, Martin Truex Jr. overcame adversity and claimed the checkered flag. This win marks his third of the season.
After a rather poor showing during the regular season, two drivers for the Hendrick team dominated the majority of the race, first with Jimmie Johnson running up front for 118 laps until a pit penalty put him a lap down, followed by rookie Chase Elliott in the #24 car as he assumed P1 and confidently held it with a respectable lead.
Truex had spent time a lap down but was in the free pass position when the caution came out and got his lap back. He had been chasing down Elliott who was reporting a strong and stable car and held a one-second lead. However, with only five laps to go and Elliott’s win within reach, the caution came out for Michael McDowell who had shredded a right-front tire. The leaders pitted, leaving Truex fourth and Elliott fifth on the restart after Ryan Blaney, Carl Edwards, and Kasey Kahne chose to remain on the track. Truex passed on the outside going into Turn One and overtook Blaney as the train came through Turn Three. Truex then took the lead and sailed to victory. Meanwhile, Elliott frustratingly became trapped in traffic and finished in the third place.
Joey Logano came away with his fourth top-10 finish at Chicagoland Speedway, placing second followed by Elliott, Blaney, and Keselowski to round out the top five.
It is to be noted that Truex Jr. failed post-race inspection. NASCAR has announced that penalties, if any, will be handed down later this week.