Kevin Harvick, Gordon Vie for Victory Over Johnson in Chicagoland

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Kevin Harvick, Gordon Vie for Victory Over Johnson in Chicagoland

All that talk about preseason favorites, who'll dethrone Jimmie Johnson, and who'll be inducted into the Class of 2010 in the NASCAR Hall of Fame is all in the past because Saturday night's 400 marks the first race of the second half of the Sprint Cup season.

So far, it's been a season of surprises, with a new face leading the tour in points, another driver who's been nearly as dominant and strong as a certain four-time champion, and a manufacturer that's been a relative no-show this year.

That said, all eyes will be on a select group of drivers who, no pun intended, step up to the plate at this nine-year-old facility known as Chicagoland Speedway.

A one-and-a-half-mile sweeping track, its corners are brutal on both man and machine. Just ask Mike Skinner, whose 2001 season was marred by a shoulder injury sustained in a grinding solo crash in turn one.

Or ask Kyle Busch about his frustrating race at this facility last year, whose ill-handling of the No. 18 Toyota came to a merciful end when its engine expired just before the finish. It was the difference between being in the Chase and going for 13th place in the points race.

Will it be one of these usual suspects or a new face emerging in Victory Lane? Stay tuned on Saturday, with the 400 airing live at 7:46 ET on TNT!

(For more of my analysis and thoughts on all things NASCAR and racing, visit my blog The Podium Finish)

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