Updated: September 16, 2013, 3:54 PM ET

Matt Kenseth Weathers The Chase Storm

Sprint Cup: Final restart dooms Kyle Busch

By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

If a new predictor is in the bud here -- win Chicago, win the Chase -- and Matt Kenseth goes on to win it all, then we might look back from Homestead-Miami in November and say the 2013 Cup was lost on a lane choice.

Race leader Kyle Busch chose, by conventional wisdom, the outside lane for the final restart Sunday night at Chicagoland Speedway. Not only did he pick the better position to get into Turn 1, but he got his brother, hard-charging Kurt, a proven pusher from the second row, restarting right behind him.

Couldn't ask for a better situation from which to win the Chase opener, right?

Yeah, well ...

Kurt, who'd pushed Kasey Kahne to a win on a late restart at Pocono in August, couldn't get going this time. Kyle was left to charge solo, with space behind him, while second-running Kenseth, restarting inside, got a tremendous push from Kevin Harvick.

Kyle Busch
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesKyle Busch had the outside lane on the final restart, but Matt Kenseth had a hard-charging Kevin Harvick pushing him on the inside.

Then Kenseth, of course, was long gone, to his sixth win of the year and maintaining his top seed in the Chase.

So nothing was done to wilt the bloom of a new notion about NASCAR's playoffs. Since the opener was placed at Chicagoland in 2011, the winner of the race has gone on to win the Chase -- Tony Stewart in '11 and Brad Keselowski in '12.

Now comes Kenseth, who was favored to win this championship anyway, even before the marathon event at Joliet, Ill., that included 6½ hours of rain delays.

Further brightening Kenseth's prospects: Four of his six wins have come on 1.5-mile tracks, and four more of those remain on the Chase tour.

The key to Sunday night's finish was that "the 29 [Harvick] pushed him [Kenseth]," Kyle Busch told ESPN reporters at the track. "Kurt didn't get a good enough restart to get with me to push me forward, to keep us side by side, getting into [Turn] 1."

"Once the 20 [Kenseth] got out front, I was a little too loose," Kyle continued in a later interview with reporters at the track. "Just couldn't do anything with him. That was the race right there."

Kenseth acknowledged as much in Victory Lane: "Kevin gave me a great push on that last restart."

And the race as a whole might have gone a long way toward putting behind last week's controversies and penalties about scheming to manipulate the outcome at Richmond.

The standings have somewhat shaken out to leave the controversial figures behind and out of the conversation.

Kenseth and Busch, who were never involved in the Richmond mess, sit atop the standings on behalf of Joe Gibbs Racing. Jimmie Johnson, who overcame a rough night in the pits to finish fifth Sunday night, is right behind them, seeking a sixth title, 11 points behind Kenseth and three behind Busch.

Harvick, also non-controversial at Richmond, sits fourth, followed by Carl Edwards, who was controversial at Richmond only in that many believed he jumped the final restart to win the race.

And the feel-good drivers moved up in the standings: Kurt Busch from 10th to sixth, Jeff Gordon from 13th to seventh and Ryan Newman from 12th to eighth.

A blown engine dropped Joey Logano from his sixth seed -- controversial due to suspect radio traffic hinting at scheming at Richmond -- to 12th. Another blown engine dropped Dale Earnhardt Jr. to 13th.

Clint Bowyer, detonator of the Richmond explosion with his late spin, ran a so-so ninth Sunday night and didn't lead a lap, to remain eighth in the standings -- thus obscured enough in the Chase at this point to ease the outcries.

So all in all, coming out of the Chase opener that thus far has predicted the winner of it all and very well might for a third year, it's back to racing in NASCAR.

Just racing.

ESPN Pit Studio: Pre-Chase drama

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.