Saturday night, the final race to make the Chase had everything. It had Mother Nature trying to wreak havoc on the night, succeeding in both delaying the start, and halting before halfway.
It had drivers trying to either get one more win for the Chase, or the Wild Card drivers trying to win just to get in. It had dominating drivers, strong runners, and guys struggling with setup due to track conditions. In the end, it came down to who had enough fuel, and who had the right strategy.
The strategy played out spectacular for Clint Bowyer, who stretched his fuel mileage just enough to get his second win of the season. It helps his standings in the Chase, moving him ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the sixth seed. Had he not won, Bowyer would have begun the Chase in eighth, ahead of Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr, who each have yet to win this season.
But, the big story of the night was the refuse to lose attitude of Jeff Gordon and his entire team. From the beginning of the night, his car was not handling well, and each time on the track he would fall back, as Kyle Busch would move forward, putting himself in the Chase bubble spot. On a red flag break for rain, ESPN asked Gordon where he needed to be better at.
"On the race track out there," he replied, clearly not happy with his car.
But, in the end it was Busch and team that ultimately sealed their fate. On a lap 275 caution for rain, the No. 18 stayed on track while others came to pit road. On lap 334, Busch entered pit road for his green-flag stop, and the crew had a mistake. A dropped lug nut on the right-rear caused a slow stop.
Meanwhile, Gordon made up the lap he went down and drove to the front, putting on one of the biggest comebacks to make the Chase in recent memory. He drove up battling for a win, with the bubble spot swapping between he and Busch in the final laps.
Gordon would finish runner-up to Bowyer, with Busch a distant 16th. Gordon needed to be at least 12 spots ahead of Busch to get the final wild card...and he got it.
No writer was able to secure a final win before the Chase, but they too have gone through a reseeding for the Chase. Just like the real Chase, the last two writers in the standings are considered the "Wild Cards" and the top-10 are reset based on victories, with the finishing position from Richmond determining the beginning position.
Here are your Chase standings in the Fan Vs. Fan Victory Pool after the Federated Auto Parts 400:
Rob Tiongson (2012) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 14th (4)
Billy Fellin (2012) Kyle Busch finished 16th (4)
Sal Sigala Jr. (2009) Kyle Busch finished 16th (3)
James Broomhead (2009) Denny Hamlin finished 18th (3)
Kelly Crandall (2009) Denny Hamlin finished 18th (3)
Patti Rodisch (2006) Tony Stewart finished 4th (2)
Christopher Leone (2006) Joey Logano finished 30th (2)
Ryan O'Hara (2006) NO PICK SENT (2)
Dustin Parks (2003) Tony Stewart finished 4th (1)
Misan Akuya (2003) Kevin Harvick finished 10th (1)
Kara Martin (2000) Kyle Busch finished 16th (2)
Michael Hirshbein (2000) Kyle Busch finished 16th (1)
Next Race: The battle to get in the Chase went down to the last lap as anticipated, but the focus now has become the final 10 races. Who will make the Chase run and win the championship?
That is to be decided beginning next weekend. A majority of the tracks in the Chase are 1.5 miles in length, and the first one is right off the get-go. In a town that is known for a streak of not winning the World Series, and the home of six NBA championships, thanks in huge part to possibly the greatest NBA player of all time, NASCAR makes it's one-race return to Illinois.
The Chicagoland Speedway for the second straight year hosts the inaugural race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. It was the launching point to Stewart's incredible run last season, but who will fire the initial shot in the Chase this season?
Writers, you know the rules of the Chase, and the time has come. Your picks for the GEICO 400 are due by Thursday, September 13, at 10 p.m. ET.