Chicagoland Speedway provides this weekend’s setting for the Sprint Cup Series, as the LifeLock.com 400 marks the beginning of the second half of the season. We’re inching ever closer to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and all of the fanfare that comes with the final ten races of the season.
Chicago provides a good test of who should be there in the Chase, as it shares many characteristics with the cookie-cutter tracks that make up its foundation. Combine that with its Saturday night time slot, and the action at Chicago is perhaps some of the best that TNT shows during its brief run of NASCAR broadcasts.
As for those behind the wheel, who has the best chance at claiming victory in Chicago?
Most signs point to Kevin Harvick .
The points leader has won twice this season, although both victories came on superspeedways. But his Chicagoland record is stout—two wins in his first two attempts and five top-five finishes in nine starts.
Happy’s only failed to complete a single lap at the track, back in 2003, and has led an impressive 282 of them. It’s safe to say that he owns this track, if anybody does.
A solid dark horse pick for the weekend is A.J. Allmendinger , who has finished 13th in both of his Chicagoland starts. This isn’t so much a history pick as a current-circumstances pick. After some rough words at Daytona with legendary owner Richard Petty, Allmendinger certainly feels like he has something to prove behind the wheel, and his team needs to give him some better equipment if they have any chance at retaining his services for 2011 and beyond.
Okay, so Jimmie Johnson is a bit of a “duh” pick anywhere, especially with seven top-10s in eight starts and the track’s best average finish, an 8.1. But did you know that Four-Time has never won a Chicagoland event? True story.
He’s been sixth or better in every Chicagoland race except for 2001, when he did not compete, and 2007, when he crashed out. He’s also led laps in every race at the track but 2001—again, because he was not yet a Cup driver—and 2006. But he’s somehow never eked out a win; food for thought.
Tony Stewart finished fifth or better in every Chicago event except in 2001 and 2006, when he had two finishes in the 30s. He’s also led at least one lap in every Chicagoland race except in 2001 and 2005. His 9.6 average finish is not quite Johnson’s, but he does have two wins at the track—in 2004 and 2007—under his belt, unlike his former home improvement warehouse-toting rival.
Finally, don’t forget Dale Earnhardt Jr. , whose solid Daytona runs have put him on everybody’s mind as a driver once again. His Chicagoland finishes have been decidedly mediocre, with a 15.2 average finish, but he did manage to pull out the victory in 2005.
And riding a wave of momentum, both from his Nationwide win in a throwback Wrangler car and from positioning himself back in the Chase after a fourth-place finish in the Cup event, he could certainly stand to duplicate.