With one round down in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Joe Gibbs Racing holds down the top four spots in the Cup points standings, with Matt Kenseth first, ahead of Chicagoland Speedway winner Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.
On the wrong end of the points is Kevin Harvick, who finished 42nd after cutting a tire and hitting the wall. Harvick, the defending Sprint Cup champ, is 16th, last among the Chase drivers.
Sunday’s myAFibRisk.com 400 was the first of three races in what NASCAR calls the Challenger Round of the Chase. From here, the Challenger Round moves on to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next week and Dover international Speedway the week after. Following the Dover race, the bottom four of the 16 Chase drivers will be eliminated, leaving the top 12 to advance to the Contender Round.
The big thing is that Hamlin’s victory guarantees he will advance to the Contender Round regardless of where he finishes the next two weeks, which means he and his Joe Gibbs Racing team can start concentrating on the next round.
"Maybe it changes the way we plan our race cars," Hamlin said. "I mean, like a Dover car is very similar to like a Charlotte car, so maybe we take what we thought was going to be a (Chase elimination-race) car and apply it now to the next racetrack.
"It could change things for sure," said Hamlin. "It will make us focus a little bit more on that next round. Now we got two weeks to do that. Definitely it will be an advantage for us to have a couple weeks to just focus on those particular racetracks."