The racing will be back to normal, or what can be considered normal, for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series when it hits the Chicagoland Speedway this weekend.
After a long night in Daytona last Saturday that only had a handful of cars around at the finish line, Chicago is expected to be calmer. Last year Mark Martin scored the win late in the race, while Jimmie Johnson was booted out of the way by Denny Hamlin.
Johnson returns to Chicago not only looking to cross another track off his winless list, but also now as a new father. Wife Chandra delivered a healthy baby girl on Wednesday, but no other details have been released.
Points leader Kevin Harvick arrives off his second win of the year. He’s won at Chicago in the past, but Harvick hasn’t won on a non-restrictor plate track since the Sprint All-Star race in May of 2007. He’ll look for back-to-back wins this Saturday.
Along with Harvick’s two wins in the Windy City are Tony Stewart’s two. The pair are the only ones to have multiple victories at the track, and Stewart’s came with a bit of controversy. In 2004 Kahne and Stewart lined up for a lap 127 restart that ended with Kahne in the wall and Stewart in victory lane. A fight later broke out between the teams on pit road.
The same bit of controversy occurred with Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth in 2006 when Gordon spun out Kenseth, who was leading, and went on to win. Both Gordon and Kenseth arrive this weekend still winless in 2010. Gordon finished third last Saturday in Daytona, while Kenseth escaped with a 15th place finish.
Daytona was a big day in terms of points: Drivers who were once in Chase position are now out, and those who were once out are now in. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. moved up to 11th in points after a fourth place finish, and he’s a past winner (2005) at Chicago. Defending winner and teammate Martin finished 28th at Daytona and slipped to 13th in points.
For drivers looking to get into the Chase, Chicago means there are just eight races left before the Chase starts in New Hampshire. Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, and Martin Truex, Jr. each lost a point position after last weekend and are becoming long shots to make the 2010 Chase.
Anything can happen, and it’s not over yet. It’s the same thing our Creatures are saying as they get closer to the Chase. Bonus points have been captured numerous times this season, and they’re not done yet.
After accomplishing the rare feat of predicting a plate track winner, they now predict the winner of the LifeLock.com 400.
Misan Akuya: Tony Stewart
I am going to stick with Smoke for a while. He was a victim of circumstances all weekend at Daytona, getting caught in a wreck in practice and not being able to get any laps in his backup car. He was still able to lead laps last Saturday but was caught in the big one.
Stewart's record at Chicagoland is outstanding: In nine starts he has two wins, seven top-fives, seven top-10s, 396 laps led (all of which leads all drivers) and an average finish of ninth. Minus Daytona, Stewart has been strong as of late and will reach victory lane soon enough.
Kyle Brandt: Tony Stewart
He is one of only two drivers who have multiple wins at Chicagoland, with Harvick being the other. Stewart has an average finish of 4.5 there since 2008, and his worst finish was fifth.
James Broomhead: Jimmie Johnson
Bit of a default pick this week I'm afraid. Tracks like Chicagoland are the bread and butter of NASCAR and are the sorts of place you have be able to achieve at if you want to win, say four championships.
Kelly Crandall: Jimmie Johnson
Now that “Baby J” is here, Johnson won’t have to worry about racing back home, just about racing to victory lane at a track he’s never won at before. Since he’s already crossed Bristol and a road course off his list, Chicagoland is up next.
Billy Fellin: Kevin Harvick
While picking new daddy Johnson might be trendy, I'm going with Harvick. He's won twice at Chicagoland, averages an 8.7 finish at the track, and is averaging an 8.1 finish this year. Give me that Shell/Pennzoil Chevy this week.
Adam Heasley: Kevin Harvick
He has won twice at Chicago and has the momentum to win his third.
Christopher Leone: Kevin Harvick
The point 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 once back in 2003 and has led an impressive 282 of them. It’s safe to say that he owns this track, if anybody does.
Kara Martin: Jeff Gordon
C'mon man, it's time for a win. Show Chicagoland who is boss this weekend!
Dustin Parks: Kevin Harvick
Momentum has been with this team for the last few weeks. He didn't earn the nickname "Mr. Where'd He Come From" by chance. He would just quietly work his way forward, and when it mattered most he was there.
We didn't talk about him much when he won at Talladega, yet he made the big move to win right at the end. At Daytona he had the top spot at one point but fell back and then ran to the front. It's what he does, and it works.
He won the first two races at Chicago, and he's been consistent at the track: an average finish of 8.7, five top-fives, and six top-10s. I can't go against the point leader. He's got the best shot.
Patti Rodisch: Kurt Busch
To be honest it is a toss up on who I thought could win this weekend. A few drivers have more momentum than Busch does, but he has proven this season to be hard to beat on mile-half tracks. After a rough final 50 laps at Daytona last weekend, Busch will be looking to collect 10 more bonus points for the Chase.
Busch wins have come on mile-and-a-half tracks this season and, as a whole Busch has carried Dodge this season. His statistics at Chicagoland are not something to call home about. His average finish is 17.2, but he has five top-10 finishes. He has yet to collect a top-five run, but I think Saturday night he will finally break through.
Sal Sigala, Jr.: Jimmie Johnson
So far this season Johnson has added victories at two tracks he had never won at. In eight starts at this nine-year-old track, he's got five top-five and seven top-10 finishes. With an average finish of 8.1, coupled together with the addition of his first child, Johnson should be a shoe-in for at least another top-five finish.
Rob Tiongson: Jeff Gordon
He's got to win one of these days...he'll make quite the statement if he can get the checkered flag first on Saturday night at Chicagoland. This team's been quietly confident, the kind that could surprise some folks, but for the ones who've known how dominant Gordon and company were in the past, we'll see more of that this weekend!
Alan Wade: Jimmie Johnson
The 48 team has done everything except win at Chicagoland. With seven top-10s in eight starts JJ and the Knausinator are ready to knock another track off the list. It's actually a win-win situation for me, and I hope I am wrong. But my magic eight-ball is saying "signs point to yes."
Billy Fellin (2,544 ) Tony Stewart finished 25th (3 )
Kara Martin (2,487 ) Tony Stewart finished 25th (2 )
Sal Sigala Jr. (2,465 ) Tony Stewart finished 25th (2 )
Christopher Leone (2,442 ) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth (3 )
James Broomhead (2,378 ) Tony Stewart finished 25th (2 )
Dustin Parks (2,346 ) Tony Stewart finished 25th (2 )
Kelly Crandall (2,296 ) Jamie McMurray finished 39th (2 )
Rob Tiongson (2,278 ) Jamie McMurray finished 39th (0 )
Patti Rodisch (2,166 ) NO PICK SENT (0 )
Misan Akuya (2,159 ) Tony Stewart finished 25th (1 )
Adam Heasley (1,122 ) Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished fourth (0 )
Alan Wade (751 ) Kevin Harvick won (1 )
Kyle Brandt (93 ) Tony Stewart finished 25th (0 )
As stated earlier, it seems that Chicagoland always manages to provide fireworks. It’s also a track that is still new in the NASCAR world, so only a few drivers have their names on its winners list.
Winners at Chicagoland have also only come from outside the top 15 in two out of the track's nine races. Kevin Harvick started 32nd in 2002, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. started 25th in 2005. Every other winner has come from inside the top 19 starting positions. Be sure to watch qualifying on Friday.
Summary of Picks
Jimmie Johnson: 4
Kevin Harvick: 4
Tony Stewart: 2
Jeff Gordon: 2
Kurt Busch: 1