The Top Five: Breaking down the Chicagoland race

Five thoughts following Sunday’s thrilling race at Chicagoland Speedway…

1. THIS is why we watch

Yes! Wow, that was so fun. I would have never imagined Chicagoland would put on such an entertaining and exciting race, but NASCAR sure needed a day like that. What we witnessed Sunday was the kind of race you’d show your non-NASCAR friends and say, “See? It’s worth watching!”

Those stand-up-and-scream-at-the-TV finishes have been all too rare lately, especially in this predictable and oft-dry season. But Chicago was a reminder of why so many of us invest our time watching NASCAR. The payoff for those who tuned in for the race was very high, and viewers got rewarded with one of the best finishes in a long time.

When you get a race with lead changes and passing and contact and drama on the final lap, that’s thrilling enough. But when it happens on a 1.5-mile track, it’s oddly even more of an adrenaline rush than on a short track — because you don’t really expect it.

Are we going to see this every week? No, of course not. That’s why a bunch of important people wanted the All-Star package to be used in Cup. So let’s just be appreciative and thankful for seeing a good intermediate track race — and getting the reminder they do exist and can put on an outstanding show under the right circumstances.

2. Totally fair

Kyle Busch’s aggressive bump of Kyle Larson was 100% fair game. Larson said as much in his classy interview after the race, but that won’t keep some people from loathing Busch even more now (I’ve already seen this in my Twitter mentions).

Had it been a driver other than Busch, fans would have been cheering like crazy during his postrace interview. Can you imagine if Tony Stewart had done that? People would have said it was one of the coolest things ever.

Instead, fans showered Busch with boos and jeers. But at least that made him turn to the camera and do the crying face acting, which was hilarious and instantly meme-worthy.

Seriously though, Larson hit Busch in a last-lap battle for the win. You don’t think it’s fair game for Busch to nail him back? C’mon. That’s just silly. That’s pure NASCAR right there, and it’s what distinguishes stock cars from the other forms of racing.

3. Larson’s stock rises

This has been the season of Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. — a whopping 13 wins in 17 races between them! INSANE! So the fact Larson has even been a factor in some of these races is super impressive. He arguably doesn’t have as good of a car as the Big Three and yet can battle with them anyway. Imagine if he was driving a Stewart-Haas Racing car!

Additionally, his racer mentality is a really cool part of his personality and story. Did you expect him to get out of the car and rip Busch for being dirty, or perhaps whine or make a sarcastic personal comment? He didn’t do any of that.

In fact, he did the opposite. He essentially let Busch off the hook and took the high road, then even went to victory lane to congratulate the winning driver! That certainly raised Larson’s respect level in a lot of fans’ eyes.

Look, it’s fun when drivers get angry and punch each other after the race. You can get good videos of that and post them to YouTube, and lots of people will watch.

But it’s also neat to see competitors go all-out during the race and then treat each other respectfully afterward. It’s not like Larson was OK with losing, but he knew what happened was just part of racing — so he didn’t pout about it.

4. Dale’s Debut

Apparently there was a new broadcaster in the NBCSN booth. I’m having trouble coming up with the name. Let me watch the replay of the finish real quick.

(Watches replay)

Oh yeah — SLIDE JOB!


Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s debut for NBC was refreshing and interesting. He had some good lines (“It’s like driving off a set of stairs,” he said of the Chicago bumps) and shared solid insight (“It does feel good, but it’s early,” Earnhardt said of Aric Almirola, pumping the brakes early in Stage 2 when the rest of the booth was getting excited).

But the best part was Earnhardt’s genuine enthusiasm for what he was seeing. There was nothing forced or fake; he wasn’t trying to sell anything to the viewers or convince people it was a good race — he was simply passing along his passion (or hitting Steve Letarte in the shoulder). It felt more like you were watching the race with a buddy rather than being talked down to by a professional broadcaster.

That said, I’m worried people are setting Earnhardt up for failure. NBC promoted the crap out of his debut, and everything leading up to the race was all about the guy in the booth — not anything to do with the cars or current drivers. So the expectations for what Earnhardt can bring to the broadcasts is very, very high.

That’s unreasonable. No matter who the broadcaster is, people aren’t going to tune in on a large-scale basis just to hear someone talk. I mean, the ratings didn’t even go up for Earnhardt’s final race last season at Homestead (they actually went down 20% and had a decline of 1.4 million viewers over the previous year)! So how can Earnhardt be expected to stop NASCAR’s ratings slide just by his presence as a broadcaster?

Everyone should just let Dale be Dale. Appreciate his insight and voice in the booth, which will fit seamlessly into the NBC broadcasts. But don’t expect he’s going to save the sport at this point. No one individual can do that.

5. Points Picture

With nine weeks to go in the regular season, there are still a whopping 10 spots available to make the playoffs on points.

Brad Keselowski is the current leader among those who haven’t won yet, followed by Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney. Aric Almirola is also comfortably inside the playoffs at this time.

The cutoff right now is Alex Bowman. Those above him in points are Jimmie Johnson (+52), Chase Elliott (+45) and Erik Jones (+18).

Those on the outside are Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-23) and Paul Menard (-28). Daniel Suarez is the next-closest, but he’s pretty far out of it (-74 points).

Next week is Daytona, which represents an opportunity for someone like a Jamie McMurray or Bubba Wallace to steal an unexpected playoff spot.

16 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Chicagoland race”

  1. Kyle Larson picked up a new fan today. He’s a class act. No whining, no griping. He raced hard, manned up, took responsibility, AND gave props to the guy who beat him. THIS is what I want to see in a driver.

    As for Kyle Busch. No fan here. Not sure mocking the fans is the way to go. Say what you will about Jimmie Johnson, but he handles haters with class. That’s what is missing with Kyle Busch. He has no class. He may be a really nice guy in real life, he seems to be a good father and husband. But as a driver, as talented as he is, he’s just a jerk personality.

    1. He mocked the haters.The hypocrites that would be cheering if he was in Larson’s shoes,like Gluck wrote.He’ll treat you the way you treat him.He got no respect from the crowd,so he owed them nothing.

  2. NASCAR has lost me. Happened upon the pre-race and saw Junior, and he made a “Brockmeyer” reference and I thought “I’m going to listen to this a bit today”. First race I’ve watched more than 1/3 of all year. Junior’s enthusiasm made it entertaining and easily the best racing of what little I’ve seen. Never gave it a thought before today’s race, but I will be making the drive to Sparta now in two weeks to see the show for the first time in probably 3 years. Great column btw!

  3. I think there is one glaring issue missing from everyone’s analysis of this race. Chicago was moved from a Fall race to Summer and run during the heat of the day. Even that new broadcaster……what’s his name?……would tell you a hot,slick track puts on better racing. And that’s what we saw here, I believe. Chicagoland should always be run in the Summer in the daytime. The track is abrasive and the tires have a huge fall off. We saw all of that this weekend and how that affects the racing.

    But then again- give the engineers a couple of races here in hot, slick conditions and maybe they’d mute our experience, like they have in many other instances.

    At any rate, that was a great race.

  4. As a Jr. fan, even I was growing weary of all the promos for his debut in the booth today. Happily, I thought he did a great job. Unfortunately, it seems that NBC and Nascar are thinking he alone can prop up the sagging ratings. First everyone expected him to ‘replace’ his Daddy. Then, he was supposed to ‘save’ Nascar. Now they hope he will revive interest and ‘save’ the sport? Can this guy catch a break and just BE without someone expecting him to shore up everyone and everything?

    1. Very well said Sall. Everyone has put NASCAR on Dale’s shoulders forever. Fortunately I believe he has become used to it and doesn’t let it bother him as much as it did at one point.

      1. Too much “JR”. Why can’t he just go away. Good to see Chase Elliott struggle yet again.

  5. I agree with all 5. Once again you are spot on! NASCAR needs to get the fan base back. Hopefully this helps get people talking & interested again or interested for the first time.
    Kyle & Kyle was just good ole racing from days gone by.

  6. I agree with everything you said! We need more hot, slick racing! This is the FIRST race I have watched (and not fast forwarded) from green flag to checkered. I STILL can’t stand the 18!

  7. Jeff.I think this is the best “Top Five” I’ve ever read.

    This is was my response to a Dirty Mo Media meme concerning KyB

    I don’t get it . ???? I wonder how most these fans would react after racing for over 3 hrs in a 150° ???? oven and then get out of the car to half the stands booing. #Unbelievable

  8. Larson is the antidote for NASCAR IMO. Those last laps made me feel like I was at Grandview Speedway watching the PA speedweeks instead of watching Chicagoland on TV. I love how he wrings every last ounce of speed out of that Chevy then uses it as a blunt instrument if need be. no excuses, no B.S., just run it till all thats left is a steaming pile

  9. Was already a Kyle Larson fan, my liking of Kyle Busch went WAY up! What a perfect reaction to the boobirds. Jeff, do think there’ll be any action taken by NASCAR re: blocking by the lapped cars when the leaders came through at the end? Newman of course, and it looked like the #41 got in #42’s way for a moment.

  10. At race,average race till last 10laps,what races have been missing!Racers racing hard for win! Nascar make it qualifying and inpound so they cant work on cars.Hope racing inproves

  11. Nice story, Jeff. I agree with Kim. There is no doubt that Kyle Busch is super talented, but public Kyle is a jerk, and that’s why he is hated by the fans. It doesn’t help that he mocks the haters. He’s very childish and needs to grow up.

  12. If Larson was at SHR or Gibbs he would probably have 15 wins by now. I’m sure he’ll get his chance but when will he be a free agent? He should get to go to any team he wants to go to.

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