What was your biggest takeaway from Chicagoland?
Nate Ryan: That the list of title favorites (Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson) hasn’t changed, but the gap over some other contenders (Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick, in particular) seems to have narrowed slightly. It’s a trend worth keeping an eye on at the next three 1.5-mile tracks that lead up to Miami.
Dustin Long: How significant Jamie McMurray’s recovery was. He spun after making contact with Ryan Newman with about 100 laps left. McMurray restated 16th and went on to finish 10th. Those extra six points put him above the cutoff. For a driver who has not advanced out of the first round, those six points could become meaningful when the playoff field is cut in two weeks.
Jerry Bonkowski: With his win, I’m convinced Martin Truex Jr. is headed to the Championship 4 round. That doesn’t mean he’ll win the championship, but if anyone else wins the title, he’ll have to go through Truex, which won’t be an easy task.
Daniel McFadin: Toyota teams are still really, really fast, but the Chevrolet camp brought improved pieces to the track, with Chase Elliott finishing second, leading four Chevrolets in the top 10 to Toyota’s three and Ford’s three. Though, if Kyle Busch hadn’t had his problems, those numbers would likely shift.
What will you be watching for in race 2 of the Cup playoffs at New Hampshire?
Nate Ryan: Whether the drivers who struggled to find speed in the opener, namely Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kasey Kahne, can rebound, and whether Matt Kenseth can find redemption at the track where he most recently won (and where he probably should have won in July if not for a tactical error on tires).
Dustin Long: If someone other than Toyota can do well at New Hampshire. Toyota cars led 290 of 301 laps in July, led 280 of 300 laps last September and led 299 of 301 laps in the July 2016 race.
Jerry Bonkowski: Don’t be surprised if Joey Logano wins one of the nine remaining playoff races, even though he is not in the 16-driver playoff field. And what better place for Logano to do so than this weekend at his home track in New England, where he’s won twice in the Cup Series? Having missed the playoffs is embarrassing, but Logano can lessen that embarrassment with a win or two in the last nine races.
Daniel McFadin: Whether Kyle Larson will display the same speed he had there in July. He started in the back of the pack and finished second after trying to chase down Denny Hamlin in the closing laps.