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Virtual Crew Chief Instant Analysis: Chicagoland 400

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Virtual Crew Chief Instant Analysis: Chicagoland 400

Instant Analysis from Tom Jensen

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A lifelong gearhead, Tom Jensen reports on automobiles and auto racing for SPEEDTV.com. Jensen has been writing about both topics for more than 15 years and is the former managing editor of National Speed Sport News. He is the recipient of the 1997 National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award and numerous other journalism awards. Jensen's latest book is "Cheating: An Inside Look At The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit Of Speed."
  • Click here for Tom Jensen's columns.
  • Past races: California | Las Vegas | Atlanta | Bristol | Martinsville | Texas | Phoenix | Talladega | Richmond | Darlington | Charlotte | Dover | Pocono | Michigan | Sonoma | Daytona


    The Gordon-Kenseth contact at the end will be debated endlessly in chat rooms and talk radio for the next week following a wild and crazy finish to an otherwise dull-as-dirt race.

    The big news is how the points are shaping up. Gordon is back in the top 10 for now, while Denny Hamlin is out, again for now.

    The gap from fourth place Jeff Burton to 13th place Kurt Busch is 240 points, and anyone from 13th forward still stands a solid shot at making the Chase, while no one higher than third place Dale Earnhardt, Jr. should feel secure.


    Laura from San Angelo, Texas: I may not be a Jeff Gordon fan, but the way those fans acted at the end of the race buy throwing beer cans, etc is uncalled for. I hope that it doesn't take away from his win.

    Tom Jensen: Laura: I couldn't agree more. It's one thing to be unhappy your guy didn't win. It's even OK to boo. But throwing beer cans and junk on the track connotes a lack of class. Buying a ticket doesn't give you license to act like a low life.


    Green flag: Gordon hangs on to win his second race of the season, followed by Burton, Kyle Busch, Harvick and Earnhardt.

    Kenseth got wrecked by Stremme on the last lap, and fans hail Gordon with trash and beer bottles on his cool-down lap.

    Lap 269: Green flag. Tony Stewart on the apron out of gas.

    Restart Lap 269

    Lap 268: The top five is Gordon, Burton, Stewart, Kyle Busch, Harvick. Kenseth is out of gas.

    Lap 266: It looks like Kenseth slowed in Turn 2 when Gordon hit him and spun him.

    Caution 8 / Lap 265

    Lap 264: Kenseth spins out after contact from Gordon. Caution out.

    Lap 261: Gordon has cut Kenseth lead to 0.749 seconds. Is there time for Gordon?

    Lap 257: Kyle Busch takes fifth from Kevin Harvick, but no other changes up front. Kenseth leads by 1.122 seconds.

    Lap 255: This race is an example of why so many fans complain about 1.5-mile tracks: No passing, no side-by-side racing, no fun.

    Lap 250: Kenseth's lead is 1.528 seconds. If he wins, he owes his Roush Racing pit crew big time, because they've kept him out front in the pits.

    Lap 247: With 20 to go, Kenseth looks like a lock to win, but Gordon's been stronger at the end of the runs. Does he have anything left?

    Lap 245: Kenseth leads Gordon by 1.195 seconds, with Burton closing in third place.

    Lap 239: Gordon got a great restart and almost got Kenseth, but not quite, as the Ford sails off in the distance.


    Dan from Vancouver, Wash.: How will the change to Toyota next year affect Michael Waltrip? Will his equipment really improve enough to allow him to be a contender again? (or at least get him running better than 30th place?)

    Tom Jensen: Dan, that's a great question. Michael Waltrip has surrounded himself with some great people and will have vast financial resources at his disposal, thanks to Toyota and a wealth of high-dollar sponsors.

    But there are mitigating factors: Any new team takes time to come together and Waltrip will have to deal with the pressures of being an owner-driver, which likely will be harder than he realizes. The short answer is, he should run better than he has this year, but maybe not right away.

    And frankly, with four wins and 38 top-fives in 660 career starts, it's not like he contended every week anyway.


    Restart Lap 238

    Caution 7 / Lap 235

    Lap 235: Casey Mears brings out a caution with the first real crash of the day, spinning in Turn 1. Denny Hamlin is the Lucky Dog.

    Lap 233: Green flag. The top 10 are Kenseth, Gordon, Burton, Stewart, Harvick, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Earnhardt, Kurt Busch and Scott Riggs.

    Restart Lap 233

    Lap 230: The caution was for Michael Waltrip losing a tire and hitting the Turn 1 wall. Carl Edwards gets the Lucky Dog. None of the leaders pit under caution.

    Caution 6 / Lap 229

    Lap 229: Caution flag is out.

    Lap 225: It's shaping up to be Kenseth vs. Gordon at the end, a classic Ford-Chevrolet shootout.

    Lap 221: Green flag. The leaders are Kenseth, Gordon, Burton, Stewart, Harvick, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Earnhardt, Scott Riggs and J.J. Yeley. It'll be interesting to see how the tires help Biffle and the others who took them. There are 24 cars on the lead lap.

    Restart / Lap 221

    Lap 218: 10th-place Greg Biffle is the first of the lead-lap cars to pit, along with Sorenson, Mears and a handful of others.

    Caution 5 / Lap 217

    Lap 216: Caution out after Elliott Sadler spins into the infield. He, like Tony Raines earlier, he kept it off the wall. This will set up some different pit stop strategies. Jeremy Mayfield is the Lucky Dog.

    Lap 215: 52 laps to go. If Kenseth can hold on, he'll keep the streak alive of no winner at Chicago ever starting in the top five. Kenseth qualified 8th. Lap 205: Green flag. Kenseth leads Gordon, Stewart, Burton, Harvick, Johnson, Biffle, Scott Riggs, Denny Hamlin and Sorenson.


    Kevin from Germantown, Md.: Jeff Gordon is looking strong and could very well win today.

    Tom Jensen: Jeff Gordon has been hot and cold in recent weeks, with four finishes of 34th or worse and a first and a second in the last eight races. He's hot today and was rapidly closing on Kenseth when the caution came out.


    Restart Lap 205

    Lap 201: Leaders all pit, which will put them right on the edge of the fuel window. Kenseth leads off pit road, followed by Gordon, Stewart, Burton and Harvick.

    Caution 4 / Lap 200

    Lap 200: Caution is out as Tony Raines spins through the infield without hitting anything.

    Lap 190: Surprisingly, Jimmie Johnson's not a factor at all today, laboring back in 10th place, without leading a single lap. He's never finished worse than fourth here. Conversely, his teammate Brian Vickers, running 13th, has never qualified worse than fifth at Chicago, nor has he finished higher than fourth.

    Lap 185: If the race ended now, Kenseth would lead the points. The key to his success has not been victories, it's been top-five finishes. Coming into today, he had 10 top fives, while no else had more than eight.

    Lap 180: Jarrett's slow restart was because he had no third gear.

    Lap 176: Green flag: Kenseth leads restart as Dale Jarrett slows dramatically.

    Restart Lap 176

    Lap 174: Mark Martin pits after staying out to lead a lap. Martin opted to do so because his car had been so bad all day, that restarting 21st wasn't much of a handicap.

    Lap 173: Leaders all pit. David Stremme gets Lucky Dog. Kenseth leads off pit road, followed by Harvick, Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Burton.

    Caution 3 / Lap 173

    Lap 173: Caution out as Terry Labonte blows an engine.

    Lap 167: 100 laps to go, and Kenseth, who dominated here last year before finishing second, has asserted himself out front. He lead 176 laps here last year and is looking to give car owner Jack Roush his first win in Chicagoland.

    Lap 160: Burton is back up to 8th. He has been steady as a rock in recent weeks, with 8 top 10s and 11 top 15s in the last 11 races.

    Lap 155: Are some guys points racing? You bet. The gap from 3rd in points to 12th is exactly 200 points -- 59 points less than the gap from 2nd to 3rd. That means guys around the top 10 are looking for solid finishes to move up in points.

    Lap 150: Kenseth back in lead, Harvick to second.

    Restart Lap 146

    Lap 146: Green flag is back out.

    Lap 144: Sorenson, who took fuel only on his stop, leads Kenseth, Harvick, Stewart, Kyle Busch, Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt, Robby Gordon and Casey Mears.


    Debbie from Georgia: Since Ray Evernham said they would discuss Jeremy Mayfield's future in the No. 19 car after his comments this week, do you think he would really fire Mayfield? Also what's wrong with Kasey Kahne today?

    Tom Jensen: I don't think Evernham will fire Mayfield, but with a lot of top seats still open and Mayfield 32nd in points and obivously unhappy, I could see the two agreeing to split up. Kahne doesn't know what's causing his handling problems.


    Lap 143: Lead-lap cars pit.

    Caution 2 / Lap 140

    Lap 140: Second caution. Again for debris.

    Lap 134: Halfway, pit stops complete. Earnhardt back out front, ahead of Kyle Busch, Gordon, Harvick and surprising Sorenson.

    Lap 133: Tony Stewart is last of leaders to pit.

    Lap 131: Gordon pits from lead for gas & four tires.

    Lap 128: Several cars in pits as Harvick stops.

    Lap 127: Earnhardt pits after losing lead to Gordon.

    Lap 125: Green flag pit stops begin with Kyle Busch.

    Lap 120: Gordon challenges for the lead as Earnhardt laps Kahne.

    Lap 118: The Penske Dodges have struggled on 1.5-mile tracks this season and Chicago is no exception. Kurt Busch is 14th, Ryan Newman, 21st.

    Lap 109: Earnhardt takes the lead for the first time today.

    Lap 108: If the track stays green, the next round of pit stops should begin in 8-10 laps.

    Lap 105: Kasey Kahne's four prior victories this season all came in the specific car he's driving today, but he's plummeting through the field -- he's now 26th -- as his handling has gone away.

    Lap 100: Harvick leads by 1.622 seconds over Earnhardt, Gordon, Labonte, Kyle Busch, Burton, Sorenson, Kenseth, Truex and Stewart.

    Lap 96: It's a dreadful outing for the Roushkateers -- Kenseth in 8th and Biffle in 13th are the only Fords in the top 25 right now.

    Lap 93: Earnhardt is up to second, 2.631 seconds behind Harvick.

    Lap 89: One-third of the race is in the books. Harvick's lead over Labonte is 2.894 seconds, with Earnhardt, Gordon and Kyle Busch rounding out the top five.

    Lap 85: Bill Elliott is making his first start of the season in a Michael Waltrip Racing Chevrolet, though he's undecided about a full-time return next season, when MWR will campaign three Toyota Camrys. But so far it's been a disappointing day, as Elliott is 39th, nine positions behind his team owner.

    Lap 79: Since the restart, Jeff Gordon has moved back up to fourth. He needs a good finish here after last week's 40th in Daytona dropped him out of the top 10 in points.

    Lap 74: Restart. Kevin Harvick leads Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex, Jr., Robby Gordon, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth.

    Restart Lap 73

    Lap 71: Kevin Harvick stays out and inherits the lead. Harvick won the first Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway on June 15, 2001 then repeated as the race winner in 2002. Can he do it again?

    Lap 70: About half the field pits. Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton take gas only. Matt Kenseth and Brian Vickers each take two tires. Jeremy Mayfield gets the Lucky Dog free pass to stay on the lead lap.

    Caution 1 / Lap 69

    Lap 69: First caution flag is out for debris.

    Lap 65: With the first round of green-flag pit stops completed, the order is Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Reed Sorenson, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Bobby Labonte and Jimmie Johnson.

    Lap 61: Jeff Gordon beats Jeff Burton out of the pits.

    Lap 59: Three of the Roush Fords pit, along with Stewart and others. Todd Kluever will get drive-through penalty for hitting commitment cone.

    Lap 58: Green flag pit stops begin with Casey Mears.

    Lap 55: Todd Kluever is making his first career Cup start today, driving the Roush Racing No. 06 Ford Fusion. He's in 36th place, keeping his nose clean.

    Lap 52: Gordon is up to second and has cut Burton's lead, which was 4 seconds, down to 2.15 seconds.


    Lori from Kansas: Do you think it is a good idea for Jack Roush to change crew chiefs Wally Brown and Bob Osborne back to Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards respectively?

    Tom Jensen: No, I don't. Jack Roush is a brilliant leader, but chemistry on a race team is a delicate thing and with so few races left until the Chase, he has more chance of messing things up than fixing them by jockeying crew chiefs again.


    Lap 45: Chevrolets have won four of the past five Chicago Cup races; Chevys no occupy five of the top six spots, with only Bobby Labonte's Dodge breaking up the parade of bowtie boys up front.

    Lap 40: Jeff Gordon is still hot, passing Bobby Labonte for fourth place on the field.

    Lap 35: Carl Edwards, who earlier scraped the wall, is back in 41st position. He can ill-afford a mistake. With only 9 races left until the Chase field is set, only 192 points separate 8th place from 15th place.

    Lap 30: Burton's been out front the whole race, which so far has stayed green. The field is about halfway through a green-flag fuel run.

    Lap 28: Kenseth's car is fine. In fact, he's the only Ford in the top 17 cars. Chevrolet has won four of the five races at Chicago. Dodge won there in 2003 with Ryan Newman. Ford has never won here.

    Lap 20: Tony Stewart has charged from 32nd to 14th in just 20 laps.

    Lap 15: Burton has led every lap. Over the last 10 races, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are the only two drivers to earn more points than Jeff Burton.

    Lap 8: Matt Kenseth reporting his car is so loose it feels like a tire is going down.


    Zeebus28 from Suffern, N.Y.: What will Montoya need to do to be able to make a successful transition to NASCAR, will he be running Busch races to get seat time?

    Tom Jensen: Juan Montoya will do just fine next season. He's pals with Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, among others, and Chip Ganassi said he's an extremely quick study. He will do all companion Busch races next season and might do a couple this year, too. All he needs is a little seat time.


    Lap 1: Jeff Burton leads the first lap.

    Green flag, Lap 1: Chicagoland Speedway is a place where clean air is at a premium. It's hard to pass here, so you''ll see a lot of different tire and pit strategies to get up front and stay there.


    Pace laps: Two drivers to watch today: Jimmie Johnson has posted top-five finishes in all four of his races at Chicago. Tony Stewart has a win and four top-fives in five races here.

    3:37 p.m. ET: Engines fired at Chicagoland Speedway. The race will be 267 laps and 400 miles. Starting from the pole is Jeff Burton, followed by Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.

    But here's the deal: None of the prior five Cup races at Chicagoland Speedway has been won from a top-five starting position.

    Prerace

    Racing is about to begin at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., where the skies are sunny and temperature is in the mid-80s. Already, this has been a historic weekend: First, UPS said on Friday that it will move with Dale Jarrett to a Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota Camry in 2007. This morning, Juan Pablo Montoya announced he will replace Casey Mears in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Dodge Charger next season. Clearly, there's nothing silly about this "Silly Season."


    Karin from Sidney, Ohio: I have read that Sadler is driving a Roush chassis this weekend. Is RYR receiving any help engineering-wise from Roush at the track with this car or are they on their own with it?

    Tom Jensen: As far as I'm aware, RYR has purchased some chassis from Roush, but unless things have changed, RYR is on its own as far as engineering goes.


    Gary from E. Granby, Conn.: Is Bill Elliott still associated with Evernham in any way shape or form?

    Tom Jensen: Bill Elliott does not have any races scheduled with Evernham for this season. I don't believe he's doing any testing with the team currently, either.


    Dale from Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Do you think Paul Tracy will come back to NASCAR? It would be great for us Canadian fans. I think full-time cup series drivers shouldn't be allowed to race in busch series, leaving room for more up and coming drivers, right now its like watching the same race twice.

    Tom Jensen: Dale, Paul Tracy will not wind up full-time in NASCAR anytime soon. In May, he signed a five-year contract extension to remain in Champ Car. "I've been checking out some other types of race series this year, and that's been a great learning experience and a lot of fun, but at the end of the day there's just nothing like Champ Car," he said. That pretty much settles it.


    Montoya moves to NASCAR
    PHOTOS: Tradin' Paint at Indy

  • Miller: Montoya's shock move!
  • Dillner: Ganassi/Montoya Q&A
  • Jensen: Chicago Instant Analysis
  • F1's Montoya to drive in NASCAR
  • Mike from Jacksonville, Fla.: Do you think that allowing foreign drivers into Nextel will hurt the sport just as is did with baseball? Baseball at one time was as American as it came, then, the influx of non English-speaking players. If Nextel goes the same route, I believe it will hurt the sport tremendously. What say you?

    Tom Jensen: Mike, will allowing foreign drivers into Nextel Cup hurt it? Quite the contrary. It will bring more fans and more global attention than ever. There are three issues to consider:

    1. I don't think we'll ever have a situation where there are more than a handful of foreign Cup drivers
    2. As I said about Toyota's entry, competition enhances the sport, it doesn't detract from it. Chip Ganassi hasn't won a NASCAR race in four years; if Juan Montoya can come in and win, he deserves to be here, plain and simple.
    3. Being foreign doesn't guarantee success in NASCAR. Just ask Christian Fittipaldi, Michel Jourdain Jr., Adrian Fernandez or Hideo Fukuyama, to name just four.


    Juan Montoya is at Chicagoland Speedway and doing a press conference with Chip Ganassi LIVE on SPEED. Ganassi announced that Montoya will drive the No. 42 Ganassi Dodge in Nextel Cup next year. In a Tradin' Paint show on SPEED, Montoya and Jeff Gordon drove each other's cars at Indy in June 2003. Check out Tradin' Paint photos here.


    Kirsten from Medford: Who do you think will be the winner of the race at Chicagoland?

    Tom Jensen: Kirsten, Chicagoland is a real wild card because — as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. proved last year and Casey Mears showed again in Saturday's Busch Series race — fuel mileage and tire strategy can radically alter the race's outcome. That said, I like:

  • Jimmie Johnson, who's never finished worse than fourth here
  • Tony Stewart who has a victory and four top fives in last five races here
  • Matt Kenseth, who dominated last year's race and has the most top fives of any driver this season
  • Kasey Kahne, who has crushed the competition at 1.5-mile tracks this season.

  • Steven from Sevierville Tenn.: Since UPS is leaving Robert Yates Racing, will UPS keep the No. 88 or will RYR, and who do you think will drive RYR's second car?

    Tom Jensen: Steven, thanks for the question. I have no reason to expect RYR give up the No. 88, the same way Dale Earnhardt Inc. wouldn't give up No. 15 when Michael Waltrip wanted it after he left. As far as a driver, there are a lot of guys out there looking. Ward Burton might be a possibility and Stephen Leicht could be, too. Earlier this season, Robert Yates told me that if they get the performance of the car to where it needs to be, there could be a blockbuster hire. Time will tell.


    Kevin from Ormond Beach, Fla.: What does Dodge say about Bobby Labonte driving a Ford in the Chicagoland Busch race since he drives a Petty Dodge? I know in the past, automakers had problems with that.

    Tom Jensen: Kevin, good question. It just depends on the contract and what was negotiated in advance. Dodge fined Kyle Petty $40,000 for driving in relief of Kevin Harvick a few years back at Bristol. But Jamie McMurray, who is driving a Roush Ford this year, is still doing some Busch races in a Dodge. My guess would be Labonte got approval ahead of time and that it's less of an issue because it's a Busch race.


    Mike from Asheville, N.C.: Tom, now that NASCAR has finally decided to allow imports from Japan to race, do you think that it will become as successful as Indy and Champ Car racing? After all, Indy and Champ Car races are always sold out. Now, maybe NASCAR can finally distance themselves from all those "Good Ol' Southern Boys" that gave NASCAR such a bad image. I can now dream of the day when Hyundai wins the manufacturers championship, beating out Kia, Subaru, Toyota and Honda. As for the Chevys, Fords and Dodges, they are in a new sanctioning body that promises to be loyal to them and their fans. An ex-Michael & Darrell Waltrip, Dale Jarrett and UPS fan

    Tom Jensen: Yep, the arrival of Toyota is going to put off some longtime NASCAR fans. No question about it. The NASCAR of 2007 is going to be very different than the NASCAR of 1997 or the NASCAR of 1987. But you know what? I've always believed more competition is good, not bad. If Chevy, Ford and Dodge want to kick Toyota to the curb, they need to roll up their sleeves and go to work. It's that simple.

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