Stewie Griffin said in an episode of the hit FOX show "Family Guy", "What is this? I don't like change!" What he was referring to was the giant hole left in his bedroom wall by Peter's crazy antics. I think even Stewie would appreiciate the changes made for Chicagoland Speedway's Sprint Cup Series date. The race is going to be under the lights for the first time in the track's short history. When I first heard about this several months ago, I will admit that I thought it was a silly idea to add yet another night race to the schedule. But, as the season moved along, I began to warm up to the idea of Chicagoland night racing. The track really looks good at night (even though all I saw of the track at night was from EA Sports' NASCAR 09). This change will change the dynamic of the race in several ways.
1. It's Nighttime.
As I stated before, it's at night. Almost everyone knows that the cars grip better at night. How will teams tackle this change? The cars have practiced in two sessions, both of which were during the day, with one practice being after heavy thunderstorms made it a rubber free racetrack. The team that can tackle the critical transition from daytime to twilight will be tasting sweet victory on Route 66.
2. It's The Car of Tomorrow, Today.
This is the first time drivers have driven on the Chicagoland Speedway in the Car of Tomorrow. The COT has been infamous for causing drivers and teams headaches at the 1.5 mile ovals, mainly due to the car's size and inability to turn into the corners. Handling is key to winning the race because you can't win a race on an oval if your car can't even turn left.
3. The Usual Suspects
Face it, this is the Year of the Toyota. Seven out of the first 18 races won this season have been won by a Toyota. All seven of those wins came from Joe Gibbs Racing, with six of them being Kyle Busch. Expect to see "Shrub" at the front of field for a good part of the race, since he is starting on the pole due to rain washing out qualifying. Now, before the anger begins, there is another team to watch. From the "Blue Oval" stable, watch the powerhouse that is Roush-Fenway Racing. Carl Edwards leads that team with three wins this season, two of those being on 1.5 mile ovals. Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are always threats to win at an oval track and there are showing strength in their practice session, running in the top five during final practice. And never count out Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. from being contenders for the win.
4. Tomorrow: Stewart-Haas Racing. Today: Joe Gibbs Racing
Unless you were living under a rock on the other side of Mars, you should have heard the news that Tony Stewart, two-time NASCAR Cup Champion, will be leaving his contract in the 20 car following the end of the season and taking part ownership of the HAAS-CNC Racing team. Now, that he had made that announcement, he can concentrate on the matter at hand, finish the year strong at Gibbs. He is still winless going into Chicagoland but, statisticaly, Stewart does not begin his win streaks until Chicagoland. So, loyal fans of Stewart, like myself, understand this but its the other teams who do not see the math behind it. Look for Smoke to be at the front contending for the win this weekend.
Given all of this, here are my picks to perform at Chicagoland:
Best Chance to Win: Tony Stewart (2 Career Wins at Chicagoland)
Best Chance to Just Miss It: Jimmie Johnson (0 Wins, 4 Top 5's at Chicagoland)
Best Chance to Shock the Rest: David Ragan (5th Fastest in Happy Hour)
Look for some great Satuday Night racing on TNT, as they wrap up their Summer Series, and prepare to turn coverage over to ESPN & ABC. Coverage starts at 6:30 PM with TNT NASCAR Live!
This has been Michael Campbell from Chicagoland and see you at Indy!