Chicagoland starts the Chase for the Cup off on the right note

Boy were there a lot of things going on Sunday at Chicagoland to kick off the 2016 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup before, during, and after the race.

It was a really good race with a lot of storylines. I know we only had four cautions all race, but that last one came with only five laps to go.

It looked like we were headed to have our 14th different winner of the season with rookie driver Chase Elliott taking home his first win, but it didn't play out that way in the end.

All it took was a caution with five laps to go, some different strategy, a really fast pit-stop by a pit crew that has been beat up a lot this year and Martin Truex Jr. ended up with his third win of the year.

I'm just telling you that a lot of eyes are watching this No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota. They are just fast week in and week out.

I can definitely see him being a player in the final race at Homestead. If they can isolate and minimize their mistakes where they beat themselves at times, they truly can vie for the 2016 championship.

On Sunday, the Chase drivers showed why they're the ones competing for the title. Chase drivers finished in 12 of the top-15 positions at Chicagoland.

Two of the drivers who I expected to be the guys to beat on Sunday – Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson – didn't fare so well.

I think the improper body modification penalty they were hit with by NASCAR which forced Kevin to start dead last instead of fourth led to a disappointing 20th-place finish.

Pit road penalties bit a lot of Chase drivers on Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson led a ton of laps but got busted late for speeding on pit road. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth also got busted for speeding.

I'm starting to truly believe that it's not the team that wins the race but the one that doesn't beat itself for these nine remaining races that is going to win the championship.

What happens on pit road has always been a huge factor in the outcome of every race but during the Chase, those mistakes are amplified to a whole new level.

I had some questions heading into the Chase. First, was Hendick Motorsports going to rebound and finally flex some muscle again?

Sure they didn't win the race, but there was a huge portion on Sunday where all four of their cars were running in the top eight or 10.

Speaking of that, a big congrats to Alex Bowman who is substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and brought the No. 88 car home in 10th.

My other question was could anyone stop the Joe Gibbs Racing onslaught?

Well sure their alliance partner won the race, but the JGR group as a whole didn't seem to flex a lot of muscle on Sunday.

Don't get me wrong, they ran well with both Busch and Denny Hamlin leading some laps, but it just wasn't the domination that we were expecting or had seen this year.

It's only one race down, but with Team Penske finishing second and fourth, plus the Hendrick cars appearing to come to life, I just think it makes for a very interesting next nine races to decide the 2016 Sprint Cup champion.