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JOLIET, Ill. — Chad Knaus stood behind the NASCAR hauler at about 7:40 p.m. ET on Sunday, a steady rain pouring behind him just outside the door, and said, “Are we done yet?”
It would be about 30 minutes later when the governing body finally postponed the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway to noon ET (ESPN and WatchESPN) on Monday because of rain.
But the frustration already had set in for Knaus, the crew chief for five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson.
It was a frustrating day for a lot of people.
It was frustrating for crew chiefs and crew members who had been in the garage since it opened at 7 a.m. It was frustrating for drivers who instead of beginning their run for the title spent the day cramped up in motorcoaches watching movies and NFL games.
It was a frustrating day for fans who sat rain-soaked in the stands hoping that the race eventually would begin, and for those at home waiting for it to begin on television.
“Just a pain in the ass on everybody,” Chase newcomer Brad Keselowski said.
NASCAR did all it could to get the race in and keep teams from spending money for another day of travel. But in the end, postponing the race, the first time that has happened since the Chase began in 2004, was the right thing to do.
No other sport would open its playoffs knowing it likely would get in only half the game. NASCAR didn’t need to start the Chase by having half a race, and that was the risk had if they tried to get this 400-mile event in on Sunday night, with the threat of more bad weather on the way.
When I asked Knaus if he wanted to start the 10-race playoff trying to outguess everyone with rain strategy, he emphatically said, “No.”
When I asked Keselowski if he wanted to begin his quest for the title with a game of Russian roulette that this race could have become because more rain was coming, he emphatically said, “No.”
Running the race on Monday won’t change who has the fastest car. It will allow — as NASCAR president Mike Helton said during the controversy over whether or not Paul Menard spun out on purpose to help teammate Kevin Harvick win last week at Richmond — the race to play out naturally.
The only time a Chase race hasn’t run to its conclusion was Sept. 30, 2007 at Kansas Speedway. That one ended in controversy after Greg Biffle was declared the winner due to darkness after 210 of 267 laps were run.
The controversy came because it appeared to many that Biffle ran out of gas and was not able to maintain pit-road speed as the field came to the checkered flag under caution. Some felt Biffle should have lost his position and Clint Bowyer declared the winner.
The last thing NASCAR needs is that kind of controversy in its playoff opener. The drivers and crew chiefs, despite the frustration, don’t want that either.
Look at the bright side. Keselowski got to spend quality “mom” time in his motorcoach. Pole-sitter Matt Kenseth got to watch his beloved Green Bay Packers beat the Carolina Panthers.
This will be toughest on the crew guys back at the shop who have to get cars prepared for next weekend’s race at New Hampshire. In case anybody is wondering about the weather at the Loudon track, which opened the Chase every year before this one, it was 67 degrees and sunny.
But whether the Chase opener belongs in Chicago, which has its arms wrapped around the Bears and not NASCAR, is another story.
The story here was of frustration, a valiant effort to get the race in and ultimately the right call to delay it until Monday.
Yes, we’re all done, Chad.
See you on Monday.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DNewtonespn.
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