Camping World 400 Preview: Welcome to the Windy City

Camping World 400 Preview: Welcome to the Windy City

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This Sunday afternoon the stars of NASCAR will head to the Windy City and Chicagoland Speedway for the Camping World 400.  The 1.5-mile oval in Joliet, Ill., 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 less banked.  Turns 1 through 4 provide 18-degree banking, which gives the drivers some high speeds but also heightened handling sensitivity.  The front stretch has 11 degree banking and the back stretch has very flat 5-degree banking.  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 their drivers a car that will handle comfortably enough for the drivers to push them to the edge and make the tough pass.  If you have a handling issue at Chicago's oval, you won't be able to man-handle the car like we saw recently at the much more forgiving Charlotte Motor Speedway.  No, a driver with an ill-handling car at this oval has to drive patiently until a pit stop and adjustments can be made. 

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

This Sunday afternoon the stars of NASCAR will head to the Windy City and Chicagoland Speedway for the Camping World 400.  The 1.5-mile oval in Joliet, Ill., 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 less banked.  Turns 1 through 4 provide 18-degree banking, which gives the drivers some high speeds but also heightened handling sensitivity.  The front stretch has 11 degree banking and the back stretch has very flat 5-degree banking.  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 their drivers a car that will handle comfortably enough for the drivers to push them to the edge and make the tough pass.  If you have a handling issue at Chicago's oval, you won't be able to man-handle the car like we saw recently at the much more forgiving Charlotte Motor Speedway.  No, a driver with an ill-handling car at this oval has to drive patiently until a pit stop and adjustments can be made. 

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 14 years or 14 races at Chicagoland Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Chase Elliott8.09554117758111.4
Jimmie Johnson11.14514136373,215110.2
Kyle Busch10.64442525732,960107.8
Kyle Larson7.0221103291,152101.9
Kevin Harvick12.44161852832,594101.1
Brad Keselowski9.23271571682,053101.1
Martin Truex Jr.13.04442431762,47495.6
Joey Logano12.426349341,71491.6
Denny Hamlin14.541462132,37789.6
Kurt Busch13.94371241242,50789.2
Ryan Blaney11.0109212759486.7
Clint Bowyer13.740751292,12785.8
Daniel Suarez11.5620033182.3
Ryan Newman15.035240311,84682.0
Aric Almirola23.1181477690576.9
Erik Jones19.5499025075.8
Austin Dillon25.2144171354474.6
Paul Menard21.32522101,24269.1
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.18.211433041768.7
Alex Bowman23.0716642765.8

Chevrolet drivers had been pretty dominant on this oval since the Monster Energy Cup Series started racing here in 2001.  Drivers from this manufacturer captured six of the first seven victories at this 1.5-mile oval, and seven of the first 11 as well.  However, other teams have had something to say about that in the last few seasons.  Toyota and Ford drivers have wrestled this oval away over the last six seasons.  So Chevrolet teams have effectively lost their iron grip on this intermediate oval over the last few years.  Tony Stewart's win here in 2011 stands as the most recent Chevrolet win at Chicagoland Speedway.  Last year it was Kyle Busch who came away with the hardware after 400 miles of action at this intermediate oval.  That marked Toyota's fourth-straight victory at the Illinois oval, and so this manufacturer is the new king of the hill at Chicago.  Considering the recent strength of Busch and his teammate, Martin Truex Jr., Toyota could add to their streak at this intermediate oval.  We'll see if Busch can rise and defend his turf in the Camping World 400.

As for drivers outside the Joe Gibbs Racing dynamic duo, we have to give some heavy consideration to Ford drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.  The two have captured four of the last six intermediate oval wins, and they could threaten to snap that current Toyota win streak at Chicago.  As for Chevrolet's chances of ending a long dry spell, those hopes will primarily rest with Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and William Byron.  They've really been the top performing drivers of late for the bowtie brand.  We'll take a look at this season's intermediate oval aces and some past history at Chicagoland Speedway, and give you the drivers you need this weekend to win your league in the Camping World 400.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Martin Truex Jr. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has won two of the last three Chicago races, and comes into the Camping World 400 as a favorite to stay hot, coming off his big win at Sonoma last weekend.  Truex has two victories and three Top-3 finishes in the four races leading up to Chicagoland Speedway.  We're visiting one of his favorite style of ovals, the 1.5-mile tri-oval configuration.  The driver of the No. 19 Toyota cashed in at the similarly configured Charlotte Motor Speedway in late May, so Truex is fine tuning his performance on these style ovals right now.  Coming off the big win at Sonoma Raceway this past week, you have to like Truex's chances to nab a third-career Chicago win this Sunday.

Kyle Busch Carrying a four-race Top-5 streak into the weekend, how can we not like Busch this Sunday at Chicago?  He's a two-time winner at this facility and the defending event champion at this oval.  Speed has not been a problem for this Joe Gibbs Racing star at Chicagoland Speedway as he's won three of the last five pole positions at the track.  Busch is off to a great start this season on the 1.5-mile oval circuit.  Busch has four Top-10 finishes in the five events to-date, but he's yet to pull out a win.  That could change in Sunday's Camping World 400.  The last time we saw Busch in action on a cookie cutter oval, he led 79 laps and finished third at Charlotte in late May.  That's the type of speed it takes to win at Chicago. 

Brad Keselowski The Penske Racing star will be glad to get back onto an intermediate oval this weekend after his 18th-place finish at Sonoma.  Keselowski needs a boost, and It all starts with a good performance at Chicagoland Speedway this Sunday afternoon.  He won here in his championship season of 2012 and he also claimed a victory in this event in 2014.  The veteran driver will hope to revive those performances in this very important race.  He rides a strong eight-race Chicago Top-10 streak into this weekend's action.  The driver of the No. 2 Ford is looking to hit the reset button as we come to Chicago, and the schedule offers the perfect oval for this driver and team.  Keselowski has two victories and one runner-up finish in the five intermediate oval events of this season, so the forecast going into Chicago looks pretty good if you're this Penske Racing star.

Joey Logano Despite last week's 23rd-place finish at Sonoma, we have to shake that off and look ahead to what this Penske Racing star can accomplish in a rebound performance at Chicago's intermediate oval.  Logano has been pretty solid on these style tracks in 2019 with one victory and one runner-up finish in five starts.  With 196 laps led on the 1.5-mile oval circuit this season, we're quite used to seeing the No. 22 Ford race up front at these style tracks.  Logano finished eighth in this race one year ago.  He rides a five-race Chicago Top-10 streak into this weekend's action.  We expect Logano to be racing with the leaders this Sunday afternoon in the Camping World 400.

Solid Plays – Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Kevin Harvick Harvick has had a good, but not great season so far in 2019.  However, there's good reason to remain optimistic that he can turn it up a few notches as we head towards midsummer.  With two poles, two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes on the intermediate oval circuit this season, the driver of the No. 4 Ford has been very consistent, but not the top threat to win on the 1.5-mile tracks.  Harvick has two wins and 10 Top 5's in his 18 starts at the Windy City oval.  The veteran driver should feel right at home this Sunday afternoon given how much success he's had at this facility.  Considering that Harvick led 39 laps and finished third in this event one year ago, he'll be coming into Chicago with some unfinished business on his mind.  If there's anything the field dreads, it's seeing a determined Harvick. 

Chase Elliott The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet is making his fourth-career start at Chicago this weekend and it's apparent that he loves this oval.  Elliott has registered third- and second-place finishes in two of his three prior starts at Chicagoland Speedway, so he has this place pretty locked-in.  The young driver has led a combined 117 laps in those two starts, so he's not exactly been sandbagging while here either.  Elliott has been a big part of Chevrolet's turnaround on these cookie cutter ovals this season.  The young driver registered just one Top-10 finish in his first three 1.5-mile oval starts of the season, but he's rallied to nab a pair of fourth-place finishes (Kansas and Charlotte) in his last two events.  That's a great sign heading to Chicagoland Speedway.   

Aric Almirola One of the more consistent performers of the season on the intermediate ovals is Almirola and his No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing team.  The veteran driver has eighth-, seventh-, seventh-, 12th- and 11th-place finishes on theses style ovals so far in 2019.  That works out to a very respectable 9.0 average finish position.  He's won one pole position (Atlanta) and led a total of 39 laps.  This level of performance is markedly better than his career stats at Chicagoland Speedway.  The reason is his upgrade in teams last year.  Almirola didn't get the finish he deserved in his last Chicago start.  He qualified sixth-, led 70 laps, but finished a distant 25th after running into some trouble.  Almirola will redeem himself in the Camping World 400.   

Kurt Busch The No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team got a real lift this season when they signed veteran driver Busch for the 2019 campaign.  He hasn't disappointed yet with nine Top-10 finishes so far and a lofty eighth-place standing in the championship points.  Busch has experienced a lot of that success on the intermediate ovals.  Four of his nine Top 10's have come on ovals of this size and configuration.  Chicagoland Speedway has been kind to Busch over the years.  He penetrates the Top 10 at this facility at a strong 50-percent rate (nine of 18 starts).  With his team running very well right now, and seemingly dialed-in on these cookie cutter ovals, Busch makes a good fantasy play in this 400-mile battle.

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

Kyle Larson Larson has struggled with consistency this season, but he certainly hasn't been lacking speed.  Whether it was his pole position this past week at Sonoma or his 35 laps led at Pocono Raceway recently, the No. 42 Chevrolet has been pretty strong despite Larson's uneven luck.  Intermediate ovals this season have been wildly inconsistent for the Chip Ganassi Racing star, so we've put Larson in the sleepers list this week for this reason.  His Chicagoland Speedway stats are what teases our interest this weekend.  This has been a very good oval for Larson with three Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes here in five starts.  He's always been a "finisher" at this facility.  That's reason enough to roll the dice and gamble just a bit despite Larson's uneven luck.    

Denny Hamlin The driver of the No. 11 Toyota comes to Chicago energized and ready to impress after his Top-5 finish at Sonoma Raceway this past Sunday.  An intermediate oval will provide the perfect follow up to what was a hard day in California last week.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star won this event four years ago, and he rides a five-race Chicago Top-10 streak into Sunday's 400-mile Windy City battle.  That has to give the veteran a shot of confidence.  He's not led many laps on the intermediate ovals this season, but the finishes have been good.  Hamlin nabbed a victory at Texas and Top-10 finish at Las Vegas, so the potential to do great things are present. 

William Byron Season two has gone much better than season one for the young driver.  Byron sports three pole positions and four Top 10's to this point in the season, and he'll likely wind up being a Chase participant later this fall.  That's a vast improvement over his 2018 campaign.  Improvement on intermediate ovals has been a big key to Byron's progress.  The young driver started the season a bit cold at Atlanta and Las Vegas, but he's rallied back to capture Top 10's in two of his last three 1.5-mile tracks (Texas and Charlotte).  It's clear that Byron has a real driving gift, and he's improving with each race.  He should far exceed the 20th-place finish he registered in his Chicagoland Speedway debut last year.    

Erik Jones The young Joe Gibbs Racing driver had a stellar afternoon at Sonoma Raceway this past Sunday.  Jones nabbed his seventh Top 10 of the season with his eighth-place finish in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.  He'll look to build on that success with a strong outing at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend.  Jones will be making just his third-career start at the Joliet oval.  He had a forgettable performance here in his 2017 debut, but rallied to grab a strong sixth-place finish in this event one year ago.  Jones has been pretty steady on the intermediate oval circuit this season.  He has three Top 10's in five starts, and his highlight has to be the 30 laps led and fourth-place finish at Texas in April.  Jones has the momentum and the current level of performance to crack the Top 10 Sunday afternoon.     

Jimmie Johnson Johnson will be one of a handful of Chevy drivers to make a good fantasy racing start this weekend at Chicago's oval.  He will be looking to up the ante after his steady 12th-place effort at Sonoma Raceway this past week.  Johnson has led close to 700-career laps at Chicagoland Speedway and he's come away with seven Top 5's and 11 Top 10's in those 17 starts.  The Hendrick Motorsports star has had a tough season on the intermediate ovals, but he seemed to turn the corner at Texas a few weeks ago.  Johnson peddled the No. 48 Chevrolet to the pole position and a fifth-place finish in the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.  Since then, he's nabbed sixth- and eighth-place finishes at Kansas and Charlotte.  Intermediate oval racing has been the strength of this driver and team since the middle of the spring. 

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer turned in his usual steady road course performance with an 11th-place finish this past week at Sonoma Raceway, but he just didn't have the right pit strategy or enough speed to overcome Martin Truex Jr.  The SHR veteran will look forward to another intermediate oval this week.  The driver of the No. 14 Ford owns eight-career Top-10 finishes at Chicagoland Speedway, or a strong 62-percent rate.  While he's been a bit off his game at this oval in recent seasons, he showed some real savvy posting a fifth-place finish in this event one year ago.  Bowyer has three Top-5 finishes on 1.5-mile ovals this season.  That works out to a very respectable 10.0 average finish.  You could do far worse than Bowyer in your fantasy lineups this weekend.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Ryan Blaney Blaney has been wildly inconsistent on the intermediate ovals this season.  Despite leading 88 combined laps, he has just one Top-15 finish in five starts on the 1.5-mile ovals in 2019.  The speed has been in the No. 12 Ford, but Blaney has just not been able to manage and finish these races.  The young Penske Racing driver is probably the biggest boom-or-bust pick this week, but we're leaning more towards bust.  Blaney has finishes of fourth-, 11th- and 18th-place in his three prior Chicago starts, so the trend line is heading in the wrong direction.  It's best to take a break on Blaney this week, and keep him on the fantasy racing bench for now.        

Ryan Newman The Roush Fenway Racing veteran has been up-and-down most of the 2019 season.  Newman has proven his utility at some tracks, like at Sonoma this past week, but then he's struggled at others.  The driver of the No. 6 Ford has found it particularly difficult on the circuit's many cookie cutter ovals.  Newman has no Top-10 finishes, and two finishes outside the Top 20 in those five events.  He checks in at a lowly 17.4 average finish on these style ovals this season.  Chicago has held a lot of success over the years for Newman with one victory and nine Top-10 finishes.  However, more recent outings have yielded 19th-, 23rd and 15th-place finishes each of the last three years.                                   

Austin Dillon It's been a real disappointment this season for the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet on intermediate ovals.  Dillon registered a Top-15 finish at Texas, but he's fallen outside the Top 20 at three other intermediate oval tracks.  The average sits around 21.2, and that's unacceptable for this driver and team.  Dillon will have an opportunity to hit the reset button on Sunday.  Three of his five-career Chicago starts have netted Top-20 finishes, but still a lowly 25.2 average finish at the facility.  However, we'd like to see this driver and team string together some decent efforts before we go hanging fantasy racing expectations on them at an oval like Chicago.    

Daniel Hemric The rookie from Richard Childress Racing has impressed us at times this season.  Hemric's Talladega Top-5 finish and his current three-race Top-15 streak are good examples.  However, 1.5-mile tracks have presented major challenges to the No. 8 Chevrolet team.  Hemric has racked up just two Top-20 finishes as opposed to three finishes outside the Top 20 in his five starts this season on the cookie cutter ovals.  The 23.0 average finish across the span needs some work.  He will be making his Cup debut at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend, so that's a factor to take into consideration.  Chicago is among the tightest racing grooves on the circuit among 1.5-mile tracks.  It's really tough on inexperienced drivers, as we will likely see for Hemric this weekend.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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