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Coca-Cola drivers find Chicago to their liking

September 17, 2012, Andrew Shain, Special to NASCAR.COM,

Nine drivers finsh in top 26, while Chasers remain with 20 points of top spot

All nine of the Coca-Cola Racing Family drivers placed in the top 26 during the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

The trio of Coca-Cola Chasers posted solid finishes to remain within 20 points of the series leader after the first of 10 rounds in the title hunt. Still, one championship seeker, Denny Hamlin, probably wished he could have used a bottle of Coke to get a little extra fuel for the finish.

Ryan Newman, who was among those narrowly missing the playoffs, paced the contour-bottle bunch with a fifth-place finish. His teammate and newest member of the Coca-Cola Racing Family, Danica Patrick, had her best finish in NASCAR's top series.


Tony Stewart

Chicagoland results: Sixth

Chase standings: Third

Stewart is used to coming from the back of the field for good finishes at Chicagoland. In 2009, he finished fourth after starting 32nd, and he won last year after qualifying 26th. On Sunday, he started 29th and worked his way nearly into the top 10 before he was forced to pit twice during a caution. Stewart charged back from restarting 28th, landing inside the top 10 about 50 laps after the pit-road mistake. He stayed among the leaders the rest of the way for his 10th top-10 in 12 races at the track. Stewart remained third in the Chase, eight points off the lead.

What he said: "We probably passed more cars than anybody [Sunday], so not exactly what we were looking for. We were just a little bit off and we'll keep working on it, but if we can be a little bit off and end up with a top-10, then we're in good shape."

Greg Biffle

Chicagoland results: 13th

Chase standings: Eighth

Biffle struggled with his car all weekend. After qualifying 22nd, his team changed the setup, but he started the race loose. The condition would continue, even as crews made adjustments on each pit stop. Biffle scooted into the top 15 and seemed poised for an even better finish when the last set of tires caused his Ford to lose some of the handling he had gained during the race. He came home 13th, his best finish at Chicagoland in four years and his ninth straight finish of 19th or better this season. Biffle dropped three spots in the standings and is 19 points behind the leader.

What he said: "We were really going good there at the end and we did our last stop and the car just went bad. It just got way too loose and we were hooking the bottom. I don't even really know what happened. We were driving up through there and the car was getting better and better and it never fails: the last stop of the day we put our tires on and it went bad."

Denny Hamlin

Chicagoland results: 16th

Chase standings: Fourth

Hamlin, who came into Chicagoland as the Chase leader with four wins this year, had a top-five finish evaporate when his fuel out on the final lap. He started eighth and spent all but two laps outside the top 15. Still, a handling problem prevented Hamlin from staying at the very front, though he managed to get a bonus point for leading a lap. After his last stop, Hamlin was told his crew did not get all of the fuel in the car. Hamlin massaged the No. 11 Toyota around the track to save gas but ran out holding onto seventh place. He lost nine places while coasting on the last lap. Hamlin fell three spots in the Chase standings.

What he said: "We're only 15 [points] back -- we can make that up easily. We're fast enough to do that. Bad thing is that I felt like we could have run to third right there -- just was having to run so slow to keep from running out of fuel and we still ran out. For this tough ending, we're going to need to perform well [next week]. It's just getting past these first three [Chase races] and trying to still be in contention is key. You can't have self-induced problems."

Other Coca-Cola drivers

Ryan Newman's fifth-place finish was his best Chicagoland result in nine seasons. He collected his eighth top-11 in 10 races despite having a car that would lose its handling on extended runs. Newman moved to 14th place, gaining two spots. He stands 41 points out of the 13th position that offers bonus money and a trip to the NASCAR banquet.

Joey Logano posted a career-best seventh at Chicagoland. He qualified 10th and was among the fastest on restarts and early in runs. He spent all but six laps inside the top 15. Logano, who like a few drivers was a win away from making the Chase, remains 18th in the standings and sits 99 points out of 13th.

Jamie McMurray started 12th but fell off the pace early and struggled to get back into contention. He led a lap before finishing 21st . McMurray is 20th in the points.

Jeff Burton tested a new setup for his Chevrolet with an eye toward the 1.5-mile tracks next season. He was running fast times when he got caught a couple of laps down with a caution called soon after a pit stop. Burton's 24th-place finish was an improvement over his start at 32nd. He sits 19th in points.

Danica Patrick started 41st and steadily gained 10 spots through the first half of the race before her car became a little loose. She pushed into 25th for her best finish in six Cup races this season.

Bobby Labonte rallied from outside the top 30 halfway through the race to finish 26th -- his best Chicagoland finish in three years. Labonte and Stewart are the Coca-Cola Racing Family members among the 10 finalists for this year's Most Popular Driver Award.

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