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Chicagoland Speedway

Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson were the class of the field on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)

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For the second straight year NASCAR came to Chicago to kick off the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. I’m happy to report there was a lot more buzz heading into the opening race of the playoffs than 2011, however more work lies ahead.

The idea to put a bigger spotlight on NASCAR’s most important time of the season makes sense. The Windy City is the third largest market in the country and NASCAR’s thought process was to give the start of the playoffs a big event feel.

However the problem in Chicago, like it is in other large cities on the NASCAR tour like Los Angeles, Dallas-Ft. Worth and Miami, is trying to break through the very cluttered local landscape.

When September rolls around in Chicago there’s one thing on area sports fans’ minds and that’s football, specifically the Chicago Bears and the NFL but college and high school gridiron action is also very much in the mix. 

That football fever is echoed by the local media, which is Bears-centric on a daily basis quite honestly the minute training camps open.

The good news this year was Bears fever shifted to Thursday night when the team went up the road to get dismantled by the Green Bay Packers. But there’s no guarantee if this schedule stays in place NASCAR won’t at some point go head-to-head with an NFL game being played in downtown Chicago.

After a decade of hosting its NASCAR weekend in the middle of summer, when battling football wasn’t an issue but trying to find a way through the other numerous sports stories like the Cubs and White Sox, Chicagoland was chosen to host the Chase opener. 



What it proved was the mainly stick and ball media market was always a very tough nut to crack and is going to be increasingly more difficult in mid-September. 



Some inroads were made this year and hopefully there will be more gains in the years ahead. Wednesday’s Chase Media Day in downtown Chicago drew a significant turnout of both local and national media.

The Chase will again open at Chicagoland Speedway in 2013. Only time will tell if it will be permanent stop on the schedule.

  • Brad Keselowski made a statement with his victory on Sunday after Jimmie Johnson dominated the afternoon at the front of the field. Keselowski and Johnson appear ready to battle it out for this year’s title in a NASCAR heavyweight fight that has all the makings at least early on to be a classic.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an eventful weekend that began with the fourth quickest speed in qualifying and then a blown engine that forced Junior to start from the rear of the field. He charged his way back up, dealt with a tire going down early and finally settled for an eighth place finish. That performance won’t win anyone a championship but it had to give the No. 88 team a little boost to overcome adversity.
  • Kasey Kahne had another Hendrick entry in the top 10 with a third place finish. If the No. 5 team with Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis can keep that up for the next nine races the newest addition to the Hendrick stable may well bring home the team’s next title.
  • Non-Chase drivers fared pretty well on Sunday including Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman who finished in the top 5. Joey Logano also turned in a decent performance with a seventh place effort. The odds of someone not in the championship picture winning a race or two during the Chase schedule is very real.

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