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LifeLock 400 Preview: Racing in the Windy City

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Taylor covers NASCAR for RotoWire. He is a three-time winner of the FSWA's Racing Writer of the Year award. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

We head to another of the Sprint Cup Series' intermediate ovals this weekend as the NASCAR boys head to the Windy City. Chicagoland Speedway hosts this week's event, and boasts the same characteristics of many of the intermediate ovals on the circuit, but with a twist. Whereas Charlotte, Texas and Atlanta are steeply banked, Chicagoland Speedway is somewhat flatter. Turns 1 through 4 provide 18-degree banking, which gives the drivers some high speeds but also some handling sensitivity. The groove is limited in width and passing is a lot trickier than most tri-ovals as a result. The crew chiefs will be challenged this weekend to give the drivers a car that will handle comfortably enough for the drivers to push them to the edge and make the tough pass.

Since this will be our first and only race of the season at Chicago, we need to visit the recent historical statistics for this oval. While Chicagoland Speedway is similar to many of the intermediate ovals on the circuit, it still has enough characteristics which make it unique. So we'll need to study the loop stats very carefully to identify the track specialists at Chicago. When we combine that information with current hot streaks and drivers who have fared well this year on 1.5-mile tracks, we should be able to easily develop this week's driver selections. The loop stats shown below cover the last five years or five races at Chicagoland Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUAL. PASSES# of FASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15DRIVER RATING
Jimmie Johnson11.21651421761,190112.8
Tony Stewart9.41541151211,183112.1
Matt Kenseth11.2148156296977107.8
Kevin Harvick9.814137941,162106.8
Kyle Busch12.8151721671,021104.6
Jeff Gordon11.219958261,06596.3
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 11.217660401,02494.0
Mark Martin12.0866619679593.0
Greg Biffle13.6120507772189.8
Denny Hamlin19.013321070287.1
Kurt Busch13.415122393186.8
Clint Bowyer12.5926153786.4
Carl Edwards21.6159601571883.9
Martin Truex Jr.20.0135291470283.3
Marcos Ambrose11.011305880.5
A.J. Allmendinger13.0483018579.5
Ryan Newman17.812012971578.7
Reed Sorenson18.511829657977.2
Jeff Burton19.090296051176.3
Kasey Kahne22.88434253472.2


Chevrolet drivers have had a stranglehold on this race track since the Sprint Cup Series started racing here in 2001. However, Toyota and Kyle Busch did steal a win here in 2008. Considering how well the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have performed this season, we could likely see another Toyota Camry in victory lane on Saturday night. When we take a close look at the loops stats we see that Chevrolet drivers Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart love racing at Chicagoland Speedway. This trio has captured four wins and led 912 laps of the 2,406 laps run at the facility. These drivers have led a whopping 38 percent of all the laps ever raced at this intermediate oval. It goes without saying that Johnson, Harvick and Stewart are worthy fantasy racing candidates for the Life Lock 400. If Roush Fenway Racing and Ford hope to steal Chevy's thunder in the Windy City and break out of their current winless streak, the task will primarily rest on Matt Kenseth's shoulders. This oval is among Kenseth's best tracks on the circuit. If you're owner Jack Roush, there's no better time than now to shake off the current slump. We'll take a look at this season and some past history at Chicagoland Speedway, and give you the drivers you need this weekend to win your league.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Tony Stewart
The surging No. 14 team of Stewart will be hard to stop this Saturday night in the Windy City. After a summer hot streak that started at Pocono, the owner/driver is becoming a factor in this season's Chase for the Cup. Stewart is focused on collecting his third career win at Chicagoland Speedway. Those fantasy owners that were brave enough to weather the slump with Stewart early this season are now reaping the tremendous fantasy racing rewards.

Jimmie Johnson
Johnson will be one of the few to give Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch a serious challenge this weekend. The defending Sprint Cup champion hasn't won in eight career starts at Chicago, but he's managed to maintain some pretty stellar stats at the intermediate oval over the years. Johnson has led well over 200 laps through the years at Chicagoland Speedway and he's come away with five Top 5's in those eight starts. The defending Sprint Cup champion is on a roll, so he will assert himself on Saturday night.

Kyle Busch
Busch already has two victories this season, and he's gunning for a third as the series visits Chicago. The No. 18 team has given the Joe Gibbs Racing star good cars on intermediate ovals. Busch has had Top-5 finishes at both Charlotte and Fort Worth in the last several weeks. He won this event from the pole in dominating fashion two years ago. Considering how strong JGR equipment has been in 2010, it's very conceivable that Busch could roll a lucky seven at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kevin Harvick
Harvick has had an incredible season to this point. The championship standings leader has two wins and 13 Top 10's in the 18 races thus far in the season, and he finds himself as close as he's ever been to winning a Sprint Cup championship. Harvick is a two-time winner at Chicagoland Speedway, and he has Top-5 finishes in three of his last four races at the intermediate oval. The Richard Childress Racing veteran is having a career season, and he could add to the success with a win in the Life Lock 400.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are a near lock for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning

Jeff Gordon
While we really don't see Gordon as a prime contender for the win in this weekend's race. However, he's been a steady performer on intermediate ovals the past two seasons. Gordon has four Top 10's in his last six starts at 1.5-mile ovals. His 66 percent Top 10 rate at Chicagoland Speedway, and runner-up finish in this event one year ago are major endorsements of his fantasy racing worth this weekend.

Kurt Busch
The surging No. 2 team hopes to keep their hat in the ring for the overall championship in 2010. Busch has five Top 10's in his last six races entering this event. As he continues to shore up his position in the Chase, we visit a very good track for the Penske Racing veteran this Saturday night. Five of his nine career starts at Chicagoland Speedway have resulted in Top-10 finishes. No driver in the series is hotter at intermediate ovals right now. Busch has two wins and five Top 10's in his last six trips to 1.5-mile ovals.

Mark Martin
While Martin is not currently threatening to win races, the No. 5 team has been trying diligently to find their stride. The Hendrick Motorsports veteran enters this event looking to regain the form that saw him win five races in 2009, including this event. Take into consideration Martin's performance on 1.5-mile ovals recently and he makes a steady fantasy racing play this weekend. While it's been a tough season, he's been at his best on intermediate ovals with Top 10's at Charlotte, Fort Worth and Las Vegas this season.

Matt Kenseth
Kenseth has carried the torch for Ford at Chicago for years, and this season should be no different. He is Roush Fenway Racing and Ford's most consistent driver at Chicagoland Speedway. Kenseth has led 300 career laps at this 1.5-mile oval and he has Top 10's in three of his last five visits. With Top 10's at Las Vegas and Charlotte this season, intermediate ovals have been the No. 17 Ford team's best tracks.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Chicago who can provide a solid finish

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The NASCAR icon has picked up his game in recent weeks. It all started with a Top-10 finish at Michigan a few weeks ago and had led to great runs at New Hampshire and Daytona. Earnhardt is a one-time winner at Chicagoland Speedway and he sports a steady 15.2 average finish position at the Windy City. The No. 88 team is on a roll, so they should unload a pretty good race car this weekend.

Clint Bowyer
Historical statistics speak very well of Bowyer's performance at Chicago. The Richard Childress Racing driver has three Top 10's in just for career visits to the 1.5-mile track, including a solid ninth-place effort in this race one year ago. Bowyer's been pretty steady this season on the intermediate tracks with eighth- and seventh-place finishes at Las Vegas and Charlotte respectively. We should see similar results in the Life Lock 400.

David Reutimann
While Reutimann's Chicago stats are lackluster at best, it's hard to contain our excitement for the Michael Watlrip No. 00 team this weekend. His 12th-place finish in this event one year was his career-best effort at the facility. These style ovals have typically been his best style tracks over his three-year Sprint Cup Series career. In his last outing at an intermediate oval, Reutimann pedaled his Toyota Camry to a stellar fifth-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Jamie McMurray
The Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing driver has hit a bit of a rough patch of late, but this team showed early in the season that they're more than capable of winning races and collecting Top 5's. McMurray has seven career starts at Chicagoland Speedway and only one Top-10 finish to his credit. However, we believe he'll buck that trend this Saturday night. McMurray led 29 laps and raced to a brilliant runner-up finish at Charlotte recently. We think he can recapture that magic on Saturday night.

Kasey Kahne
Kahne has had some incredibly fast cars in recent weeks, but luck has been anything but consistent. He posted Top-5 finishes at Michigan, Sonoma and Daytona, and Kahne recently led a whopping 110 laps at New Hampshire before succumbing to an engine failure. Intermediate ovals have been good to the driver of the No. 9 Ford this season, with ninth-, fifth- and 12th-place finishes at Las Vegas, Forth Worth and Charlotte.

A.J. Allmendinger
The No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team has been remarkably consistent recently. While Allmendinger isn't racing for wins, he is running with the leaders and bringing home Top-15 finishes. We expect this solid, yet unspectacular streak to continue this Saturday night at Chicago. In two career starts in the Windy City, Allmendinger has a pair of 13th-place finishes to his credit. That's similar to what you should expect to see in this installment of the Life Lock 400.

Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs

Juan Pablo Montoya
After last week's disappointing performance at Daytona, we're downgrading Montoya even further than normal on one of his better tracks. It's clear that the No. 42 team isn't carrying the luck that they had in 2009. Good performances have been mixed with many disappointments this season. Montoya's last six starts on 1.5-mile tracks have seen no results better than 34th-place. That's an ominous sign heading into this event.

Robby Gordon
Gordon has had plenty to be upset about this season. Sponsorship money has been drying up and the veteran driver has been dangerously close to falling outside the Top 35 in the standings on a couple occasions. Gordon's runner-up finish at Sonoma is about the only bright spot for the No. 7 team in 2010. He visits this weekend what has been a tough track for him over his career. Gordon has two Top 10's in seven visits to Chicago, but both those runs came years ago when he was racing for Richard Childress. Since forming his own team, Gordon has seen the Top 20 only once in his last five visits to the Windy City.

Carl Edwards
It's difficult to imagine that we're putting Edwards in the flops list at an intermediate oval. These have typically been among his best ovals on the circuit. However, the recent struggles of the No. 99 team combined with Edwards' generally poor record at Chicagoland Speedway are primarily the cause for this selection. Edwards has only one Top 10 in five visits to Chicago, and he's 0-for-the-season in Top 10's on 1.5-mile tracks.

Sam Hornish Jr.
Among drivers with two or more starts at Chicagoland Speedway, Hornish's numbers rank about the worst. His 37th- and 38th-place finishes at the intermediate oval the last two years jump right off the page and in our face. The No. 77 Dodge team has been looking to find the groove that led them to seven Top-10 finishes in 2009. With no Top 10's to-date this season, Hornish is having a down year. Chicago is no place for him to visit and expect to shake off his current slump.
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