By Jared Turner
One race down, nine to go in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. With the Sprint Cup Series heading to New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend on the heels of Sunday’s Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, only one of the 16 Chase drivers – Martin Truex Jr. – can breathe completely easy.
That’s because Truex, who won at Chicagoland, has already clinched an automatic berth in the next Chase round. The other 15 Chase drivers all still have work to do over the next two races in order to be among the 12 who advance and remain in contention for the Sprint Cup title.
Needless to say, Truex breathed a big sigh of relief when he took the checkered flag at Chicagoland.
“What this victory means is that we’re guaranteed to make the second round, and the next two weeks we don’t have to worry about flat tires or somebody running into us and wrecking us,” Truex said. “We don’t have to worry about the things we can’t control.”
Just a point behind Truex is Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski. The other 10 drivers in position to advance are Kyle Busch (-4 on Truex), Denny Hamlin (-5), Joey Logano (-7), Chase Elliott (-11), Matt Kenseth (-12), Jimmie Johnson (-13), Carl Edwards (-18), Kurt Busch (-19), Jamie McMurray (-20) and Tony Stewart (-22).
Logano, who finished runner-up to Truex at Chicagoland, is feeling good about his chances of reaching the Round of 12, but knows there are no guarantees.
“Can’t wait to get to New Hampshire and continue this momentum,” Logano said. “Obviously a second‑place finish gives us a decent cushion for the next couple races, but we got to keep attacking the way we are right now.”
Equally encouraged leaving Chicagoland was Elliott, who appeared to be on his way to his first career Sprint Cup Series victory before a late yellow flag jumbled up the running order. Even with the untimely caution, the rookie still finished third – putting him in a good place to transfer.
“We are proud of the run we had at Chicagoland,” Elliott said. “Obviously, hate to come up short, but that is part of life some days. We were fast, and I think that is something to be happy about and we can move forward to Loudon with some motivation, I think, and get ready to get going.”
Meanwhile, Stewart – the driver sitting squarely on the transfer spot – believes his No. 14 Chevrolet needs to be faster these next two weekends if he hopes to advance. The three-time champion struggled all day at Chicagoland, finishing 16th.
Stewart finished second to Kenseth at New Hampshire in July, however, so there is some reason for optimism.
“It was a good race for us in the spring, but I mean some of the guys that are behind us (in points) are guys that are really good, too,” Stewart said. “We are going to have to be on our game these next two weeks.”
That’s even more true for the four drivers on the wrong side of the cutoff position. Those drivers are Austin Dillon (1 point behind Stewart), Kevin Harvick (-1), Kyle Larson (-2) and Chris Buescher (-12).
Buescher, obviously, is in the deepest hole of all heading to Loudon, but the rookie isn’t getting too caught up in his precarious position.
“It isn’t any different on pressure,” he said. “Obviously, we care about where we are at, but we are trying to get all we can get – I promise you that. That is how we will attack it at Loudon, the same way if Chicagoland was a top-10 day or where we ended up. We will go to Loudon and give it all we can.”