Fuel Mileage Costs Menard a Top-10 Finish at Chicagoland
After inclement weather postponed the first race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup to Monday afternoon, Paul Menard and the Zecol/Menards team started the Geico 400 second and were a mainstay in the top 10 until a fuel mileage gamble left the No. 27 Chevrolet Impala one lap shy of the fuel needed to take the checkered flag under full power, forcing the team to coast to a 20th-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway. Under overcast skies, Menard took the green flag on the outside of the front row and settled into the third position after the first circuit around the 1.5-mile oval. He remained in the top five and was running fourth when a lap-30 competition caution was called.
With Menard reporting that the racer was just a little tight in the center of the turns, the Slugger Labbe-led crew changed four tires with air pressure adjustments and packed the Chevrolet with fuel. Losing ground only to a team that opted for two tires, Menard restarted fifth on lap 35. A long green-flag run ensued and was halted on lap 69 when the yellow flag was displayed for debris with the No. 27 running fourth. Menard returned to pit road for additional air pressure adjustments to assist with a late-developing loose condition. Two additional pit stops while under caution and one under green-flag conditions allowed the Zecol/Menards team to work on the car's persistent loose handling with air pressure and wedge adjustments.
Menard fell out of the top 10 only briefly from lap 185 until a lap-204 caution afforded him another visit to pit road where the No. 27 crew executed another speedy pit stop that catapulted him from 11th to the ninth position. With fuel mileage coming into play, Menard's final trip down pit road was for fuel-only on lap 214 and the No. 27 team held their breath for the closing 53 laps, knowing that it would be close. As he took the white flag in the seventh position, Menard reported that he was out of fuel. He joined many other competitors in coasting to the checkered flag, crossing the start finish-line in the 20th position.
Start - 2 Finish - 20 Laps Led - 0 Points - 23
PAUL MENARD QUOTES: "We ran up front all day long but, unfortunately, just ended up on the losing side of the fuel mileage battle this weekend. We had a good car today and the No. 27 Zecol/Menards pit crew was damn good on pit road. Everyone worked really hard this weekend and we made a ton of ground up from where we started in practice on Friday. We have nine more races to go this season and we're going to go into each weekend looking to get another win."
Harvick Claims Runner-Up Finish and Points Lead at Chicagoland
Kevin Harvick and the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet team left Monday's Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway with a second-place finish and the lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver point standings. After the start of the 400-mile event was delayed a day due to rain, Harvick rolled off from the 30th starting position when the field took the green flag on Monday morning. On the first run of the day, the red and white machine was able to gain five positions before NASCAR threw the yellow flag for a competition caution at lap 30. Before bringing the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet down pit road for service, he radioed to the team that the car's handling was "tight through the middle and loose off" and that he needed it to "turn better through the center" of the corner. He pitted at lap 32 for four tires and fuel and restarted from the 26th position.
After the field took the green flag on lap 35, Harvick was able to gain eight positions in just five laps. After working his way up to 15th when the caution flag waved again at lap 70, he and radioed the team that the car was "rolling right there." The Budweiser team pitted once again for four tires and fuel. They unfortunately lost some ground on the stop as Harvick had to maneuver around tires from the team pitted in front of the No. 29 team on pit road, a problem they encountered throughout the 267-lap race. The No. 29 Chevrolet Impala restarted in the 16th position on lap 75 and Harvick cracked the top 10 for the first time at lap 80, then stayed there throughout the remainder of the race. The No. 29 team pitted four more times for tires and fuel, running as high as fifth before the team's final trip down pit road at lap 214. On that stop, the team took fuel only and told Harvick to save fuel as they appeared to be several laps shy of the checkered flag. The Bakersfield, Cali. native restarted in the seventh position and focused on saving fuel during the first part of the run.
In the closing laps Harvick picked up the pace and with that he began to pick off positions as other teams started conserving fuel. He worked his way up to second with five laps to go and started closing in on the leader. The distance was too great for the short number of laps remaining, however, and Harvick crossed the start-finish line in second position, marking his seventh top 10 finish in his 11 starts at Chicagoland Speedway. Harvick now leads the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver point standings by a seven-point margin over Tony Stewart.
Start - 30 Finish - 2 Laps Led - 0 Points - 1
KEVIN HARVICK QUOTE: "We had to save a lot (of fuel) there at the beginning (of the run) and I just didn't know how much we had in our tank there at the end but I was hoping we had enough. Everybody on the Budweiser Chevrolet did a good job and this is a good way to start the Chase. I wasn't ever comfortable but I knew I had saved a little bit under caution and a little bit at the beginning of that run and they felt comfortable with the lap times. Everybody on our Budweiser Chevrolet did a great job and knowing exactly how far we could go, we ran out coming on to pit road there, so good first race for us."
Burton and Caterpillar Racing Team Overcome Adversity to Post Top 15 at Chicagoland
Jeff Burton and the Caterpillar Racing team battled back from an early ill-timed caution to earn a top-15 finish in the GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on Monday. After Sunday's inclement weather in the Windy City forced NASCAR to postponed the start of the 267-lap event until Monday, Burton took the green flag from the 22nd position in the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet and moved into the top 20 soon after. Crew chief Luke Lambert pulled out some strategy early in the race, calling for a two-tire stop during a NASCAR-mandated competition caution on lap 30 in order to gain track position. The decision paid off as Burton lined up the yellow and black machine ninth for the restart on lap 34. The South Boston, Va., native maintained his track position in and around the top 10 until hitting pit road for a green-flag pit stop on lap 69. As the No.31 Cat Chevrolet received service of four tires and fuel, the caution flag waved on the track for debris, requiring Burton to take the wave around to remain on the lead lap.
When the field returned to green-flag conditions on lap 75, Burton was sitting in the 31st position. Though it was early in the 400-mile event, the Cat Racing Team spent the remaining laps scrapping their way back into contention. After starting near the back of the field for the lap-75 restart, a long green-flag run allowed the leader to reach the No. 31 Chevrolet, and Burton fell one lap down just as the caution flew on lap 144. Fortunately, he was in position to receive the 'Lucky Dog' pass and immediately made up the lost lap and following a four-tire pit stop, Burton lined up in the 21st position on lap 150. Burton moved up to 19th position before the next caution flew on lap 164 and Lambert once again called for a two-tire pit stop, gaining the team an additional three spots and lining up the No. 31 in the 16th position as the field returned to green with 100 laps remaining in the event. Up to 13th by lap 200, Burton's progress was slowed as the caution flag flew again on lap 205.
Difficulty during the team's four-tire pit stop dropped the Cat Chevrolet to the 17th spot for the restart on lap 208. A quick caution just four laps later allowed Lambert to call Burton to pit road for one final stop of the day, this time choosing for a fuel-only visit, which returned the 21-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner to green-flag conditions in the 15th position. Burton immediately went into fuel saving mode with his Cat machine, losing a few spots in the process early in the run but he ultimately earned them back as the No. 31 Chevrolet was able to make it to the checkered flag on fuel, claiming the 15th-place finish in the process.
Start - 22 Finish - 15 Laps Led - 0 Points Position - 24
JEFF BURTON QUOTE: "We had a few setbacks due to the timing of some caution flags today, but ultimately battled back for the 15th-place finish. This Caterpillar Racing Team is gaining each week and looking to improve further at Loudon next weekend."
Bowyer Survives Fuel Mileage Race with Top-10 Finish at Chicagoland
Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet team finished off a consistent run with a top-10 finish in the rain-delayed GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Starting from the 21st position on Monday after NASCAR and track officials were forced to postpone the event on Sunday due to rain, the Richard Childress Racing driver started off the 267-lap event by gaining five positions in the first 30 laps before NASCAR officials called a mandatory competition caution on lap 30. After getting four fresh Goodyear tires and Sunoco E15 fuel during the competition caution, the Emporia, Kan., native jumped up four more positions to 12th before the red and yellow machine started to become loose off and tight in the center of the 18-degree banked corners of the 1.5-mile oval.
The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race winner continued to give feedback to crew chief Shane Wilson over the next 100 laps as Wilson directed the "Helping Hands" pit crew to make necessary adjustments on the No. 33 Chevrolet to fix the loose-handling condition. By lap 211, the 32-year-old driver found himself in the top 10. When the final caution flag was displayed on lap 214 the team made their final pit stop of the day and Wilson elected to take fuel only playing a strategy dependant on the race running under green-flag conditions until the end. Bowyer ran 15th until 13 laps to go, and had enough Sunoco fuel to make it to the end of the 400-mile race as many other competitors in the 43-car field started to run out of gas. Bowyer drove his Chevrolet Impala through the field with ease, securing a seventh-place finish for his 10th top-10 finish of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. With the strong finish, Bowyer gained a spot in NSCS driver championship point standings, improving to 13th-place.
Start - 21 Finish - 7 Laps Led - 0 Points - 13
CLINT BOWYER QUOTE: "It was a good day for the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper team. We finally had luck on our side and didn't run out of gas at the end. Shane (Wilson, crew chief) called a good race and the pit crew was consistent on pit road."