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NASCAR At Chicago: Five-Time Defending Champion Jimmie Johnson Out Front

With fewer than 100 laps remaining in the opening round of the 2011 Sprint Cup Chase, the picture looks similar to past playoffs: Jimmie Johnson is out front.

The five-time defending Sprint Cup champion overhauled Brad Keselowski on a restart with just under 100 laps remaining to grab the top spot and leads at one of only five tracks he has never won at in Sprint Cup competition. He did win the 2001 Nationwide Series event at Chicago, his lone victory in that circuit.

Tony Stewart runs second, ahead of Keselowski - who did not pit under the caution flag for that restart - Ryan Newman, and Matt Kenseth. Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch run in spots six-eight, as Chase drivers hold the top-eight spots. Paul Menard runs just inside the top-10, where he has been all race, ahead of Martin Truex Jr.

The four Chase drivers outside those top eight spots are Carl Edwards (12th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (14th), Jeff Gordon (18th), and Denny Hamlin (25th). As his position in the running order clearly illustrates, Hamlin has had a miserable day, the result of a poor-handling Toyota and a green-flag pit stop for a loose wheel earlier in the race.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.