A long day's journey into night ended with Matt Kenseth winning the Geico 400, the opening race of the 10-event Chase for the Sprint Cup championship Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
In earning his series-high sixth victory of the season, Kenseth led a race-high 89 laps in an event that not only saw its start delayed by rain for more than an hour but also included a five-hour, 10-minute delay before a stubborn front finally passed and the track was able to be dried.
Kenseth's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, finished second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman.
Equally as important as the win for Kenseth was the fact he left Chicago still leading the Chase. The leading Chase drivers and where they are in the standings are: Kenseth, Kyle Busch (eight points back), Johnson (11), Harvick (15), Carl Edwards (23) and Kurt Busch (23). Seventh through 13th are Jeff Gordon (24), Ryan Newman (28), Clint Bowyer (28), Kasey Kahne (31), Greg Biffle (31), Joey Logano (52) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (53).
Several Chase drivers suffered a variety of mechanical maladies in the race that proved costly, including Logano and Earnhardt, both with blown motors. Earnhardt finished 35th, while Logano wound up 37th.
The race started under clouds in mid-afternoon and resumed under the lights on what was essentially a green race track after all the rain washed away any rubber to aid with grip for drivers and their race cars.
With 75 laps remaining in the delayed event, Kyle Busch was the race leader -- and looking to win all three races at Chicagoland Raceway, having triumphed Friday in the trucks race and Saturday in the Nationwide event. He was followed by Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Biffle and Kenseth.
Once the race restarted, it remained under caution until Lap 115 when the green flag finally fell to resume high-speed action.
The field completed 109 laps before a heavy deluge descended upon the Speedway.
Of the 13 Chase drivers, 12 were in the top 17 positions before the rain delay. The 13th Chase driver, Kurt Busch, was in 27th position when the stoppage came. Busch was caught speeding on pit road and was forced to serve a costly stop-and-go penalty that plummeted him in the field.
Joey Logano, who started on the pole, and Jimmie Johnson dominated in the first part of the race, with Logano leading 32 laps and Johnson 40. After building nearly a three-second lead, Johnson had a slow pit stop during a caution period on Lap 76, which was compounded by an incorrect ruling by a pit official who believed lug nuts were loose on the right rear tire of Johnson's car, further delaying his exit from the pits.
Johnson eventually came back on the track in fifth position.
"There was one (lug nut) hanging there," crew chief Chad Knaus said during the rain delay. "One had fallen off during the hand-in, so it was kind of hanging there, but the tire changer had taken his time. He did his job. He did a great job getting the other lug nut on there and making sure it was tight. The official thought there were only four on there. We all make mistakes. That happens from time to time."
Logano suffered engine troubles on Lap 146 that dropped him back to 27th in the field, becoming the first of the 13 drivers to have a major problem that will seriously affect his place in the Chase standings going forward for the remaining nine events. Greg Biffle also suffered issues, dropping to 26th, but they did not appear as potentially terminal as the issues to Logano's car.
NOTES: It was the second time in three years that the Chase opener was impacted by rain. Three years ago, the race never even got under way, as it was postponed to the following day. NASCAR didn't want a repeat performance Sunday, choosing to wait as long as it did rather than have teams and fans return to the track Monday. ... The rain notwithstanding, Sunday was the first race under NASCAR's mandate of more dedication by drivers as well as more scrutiny by sanctioning body officials to maintain integrity of the racing after last Saturday's fiasco at Richmond.