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5 Things We Learned at Chicagoland Speedway

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For the second consecutive season, Martin Truex Jr. won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener, this time capturing Sunday’s Tales of the Turtle 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team overcame a couple of mistakes on pit road to win his series-high fifth race of the season and automatically advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Here are five things we learned in the playoff opener from the home of Joliet Jake and Elwood blues.

  1. No one is trouble — yet

Only 12 of the 16 drivers in the playoffs will advance to the second round, which concludes in two weeks at Dover International Speedway. But while several drivers had disappointing finishes at Chicagoland, no one dug himself an insurmountable points hole. The gap from 12th-place Austin Dillon to 16th-place Ryan Newman is just 7 points, a sum that certainly can be made up in a couple of races.

  1. Jimmie Johnson didn’t flip a switch

For the second consecutive week, Jimmie Johnson finished eighth, which means the seven-time Cup champion hasn’t had a top-five finish since winning race No. 13 at Dover in the spring. In fact, he hasn’t finished better than eighth since Dover. Johnson’s odds of an eighth title don’t look great right now.

  1. An egalitarian affair, sort of

The Toyotas of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. led the most laps — 85 for Busch, 77 for Truex — but the finishing order was Toyota (Truex), Chevrolet (Chase Elliott), Ford (Kevin Harvick), Toyota (Denny Hamlin), Chevrolet (Kyle Larson), Ford (Brad Keselowski), Ford (Joey Logano), Chevrolet (Jimmie Johnson) and Toyota (Matt Kenseth). For those of you keeping score at home, that is three Toyotas, three Fords and three Chevys in the top nine.

  1. Cream rises to the top

No huge surprise here, but the top six finishers at Chicagoland and nine of the top 11 are drivers in the playoffs. This time of year, the best rise to the challenge as the battle for the championship begins in earnest. Expect that to continue over the next nine weeks.

  1. Free pass

With an amazing 58 playoff points, Truex is a virtual lock to make it to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, especially now that playoff points carry over in the first three. By virtue of his Chicagoland victory, Truex is locked into Round 2 already, and I don’t see any realistic chance of him getting knocked out before Homestead. For the record, Kyle Larson has 33 playoff points and Kyle Busch 30. No one else has as many as 20.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen is a veteran motorsports journalist. He spent 13 years with, where he was Digital Content Manager. Previously, he was executive editor of NASCAR Scene and managing editor of National Speed Sport News. Jensen served as the president of the National Motorsports Press Association and is the group’s former Writer of the Year.