This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
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 coming into the Chase for the Cup, 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 12 years or 12 races at Chicagoland Speedway.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUALITY PASSES||FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||RATING|
|Martin Truex Jr.||14.9||354||160||99||1,962||91.3|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||13.5||394||79||42||2,050||89.5|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||17.0||100||12||0||389||73.2|
Chevrolet drivers have 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. 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 five 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 Martin Truex Jr. who came away with the hardware after 400 miles of action at this intermediate oval. It was a very balanced race that saw several contenders run up front and lead laps. The Furniture Row Racing star battled with Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to secure the win. It was manufacturer Toyota's third win in the last four Chicago races. We'll see if that them holds up this weekend.
When we take a close look at the historical stats we see that Kevin Harvick, Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin love racing at Chicagoland Speedway. This group has captured six wins, 18 Top 5s and led 974 laps at the Illinois oval. It goes without saying that these handful of stars are worthy fantasy racing candidates for the Tales of the Turtles 400. All four drivers are in the Championship Chase, so motivation won't be an issue for these veterans. If Chevrolet hopes to retake control in the Windy City, the task will primarily rest on Kyle Larson's shoulders. The Chip Ganassi Racing star is fresh off the big win at Richmond this past week, and he's claimed Top 10s in two of his three-career starts at Chicagoland Speedway. The No. 42 Chevrolet looks primed to challenge for the win this Sunday afternoon. 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 opening race of the Chase.
The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win
Martin Truex Jr. – The Furniture Row Racing driver comes to Chicago as the top seed in the Chase and favorite to win the championship, and riding some pretty good momentum leading up to NASCAR's playoff. Truex has one victory and three Top-10 finishes in the five races leading up to Chicago. We're visiting one of Truex's favorite style of ovals, the 1.5-mile tri-oval configuration. The driver of the No. 78 Toyota has only three Top-10 finishes in 11-career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, but his last start here one year ago netted his first victory at the track. Truex has victories this season at Las Vegas, Kansas and Kentucky, and has been by far the most dominant driver of 2017 on these style ovals.
Kyle Larson – Larson has suddenly thrust himself back into the championship picture. He has won two of the last four races, including this past weekend at Richmond International Raceway. The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet has been almost as dominant as Truex on these cookie cutter ovals this season. Larson has four runner-up finishes in the six 1.5-mile oval races to-date. Truex has been winning them, and Larson has been a close second in most of them. In three-career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, the young driver has nabbed a pair of Top-10 finishes. So the oval in Joliet has not proven to be an obstacle to the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. With the championship now on the line, we expect Larson to be at his best this Sunday afternoon.
Kyle Busch – Coming off a steady ninth-place finish at Richmond, how can we not like Busch this weekend at Chicago? He's a one-time winner at this facility and he rides a five-race Chicago Top-10 streak into this weekend's action. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has also won two of the last three pole positions at this oval. The team has this track dialed-in for speed. Busch starts the Chase with good recent results on the intermediate ovals. He started the year a little bit rocky, but closed strong with fifth-, second- and fifth-place finishes at Kansas, Charlotte and Kentucky. Busch's 429 laps led at Chicagoland Speedway rank him third among active drivers. It's that experience that will pay off as he starts the pursuit of his second championship this weekend.
Kevin Harvick – Harvick has had a good season in 2017, and there's reason to be even more optimistic heading into the Chase. With three poles, two Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes on the intermediate oval circuit this season, the driver of the No. 4 Ford has a lot of positives to point to kicking off the Chase. Harvick has two wins and eight Top 5s in his 16 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 the competition is for all the marbles with the start of the Chase, it would be shocking not to see Harvick battling with the leaders in Sunday afternoon's race at Chicagoland Speedway.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Brad Keselowski – The 2012 Monster Energy Cup Series champion will set out to claim his second championship in NASCAR's top division. It all starts with a good performance at Chicagoland Speedway this Sunday afternoon. He won here in his championship season five years ago and also a victory in this event three years ago. The veteran driver will hope to repeat those performances in this very crucial race. He rides a strong six-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 four Top 10s in the six intermediate oval events of this season, so the forecast going into Chicago looks pretty good if you're this Penske Racing star.
Denny Hamlin – The driver of the No. 11 Toyota comes to Chicago energized and ready to make a run at his first championship. Hamlin picked a good time to rediscover his top form, and it may pay off in November with him hoisting the Monster Energy Cup. The Joe Gibbs Racing star won this event two years ago, and he rides a three-race Chicago Top-10 streak into Sunday's Chase for the Cup kickoff. 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's last two starts on intermediate ovals have netted fifth- and fourth-place finishes at Charlotte and Kentucky. He and crew chief Mike Wheeler should have a good setup and plan for the Chicago oval.
Kurt Busch – The No. 41 SHR team made the Chase once again in their fourth season in existence. Coming off a campaign of one win and 13 Top 10s, it's no surprise. It's been a steady season for Busch filled with many successes, but has been turning much more positive down the stretch. The veteran driver has been one of the more consistent drivers in the series the last month with four Top 10s in the last five events. Busch looks to kick off his Chase campaign with another successful run at Chicagoland Speedway. The Stewart Haas Racing driver has some decent Chicago stats to fall back on. Busch's nine Top 10s in 16-career starts works out to a strong 56-percent rate at the facility. We say his odds are better than that this weekend at the Windy City oval.
Erik Jones – We still have 10 races to go in the 2017 season, and Jones has all but seized the Rookie of the Year honors. He didn't make the Chase, but he's been one of the hottest drivers in the series the past several weeks. The Furniture Row Racing rookie rides a torrid hot streak of six consecutive Top-10 finishes into Chicago this weekend. That streak includes some very impressive performances for the No. 77 Toyota team. Jones will be making his first-career start at Chicagoland Speedway, but that's of little concern. His last outing on an intermediate oval was pretty strong. Jones raced to a surprising sixth-place finish at the similar oval in Kentucky in July. That would be a reasonable expectation for Sunday's Tales of the Turtles 400.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Chicago who can provide a solid finish
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 hit the reset button after some shaky performances leading up to the Chase. The seven-time Monster Energy Cup champion should be nicknamed "Mr. Playoff" for his proficiency of turning it up a notch during the Chase. Johnson has led close to 700 career laps at Chicagoland Speedway and he's come away with seven Top 5s and 10 Top 10s in those 15 starts. The Hendrick Motorsports star is kicking off his Chase campaign in search of his mind-boggling eighth Monster Energy Cup Series championship, so you can bet crew chief Chad Knaus and the boys will be in improved form for the Tales of the Turtles 400.
Joey Logano – Despite last week's runner-up finish at Richmond, Logano failed to make the Chase for the Cup field. He was in a must-win scenario to make the playoff and just came up short. The good news is that the Richmond effort was his best in weeks. Over these final 10 races he can focus on getting the No. 22 team back in top form for next season. Logano has been pretty solid on these style tracks in 2017 with two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes in six starts. With 50 laps led on the 1.5-mile oval circuit, we're used to occasionally seeing the No. 22 Ford race up front at these tracks. Logano finished runner-up in this race one year ago. He rides a three-race Chicago Top-10 streak into this weekend's action. We expect Logano to be racing with the leaders this Sunday afternoon in the Tales of the Turtles 400.
Matt Kenseth – Kenseth has been tuning up and getting faster as the Chase for the Cup approached. With Top-10 finishes at Bristol and Darlington, he was looking like the Kenseth of old the last few weeks. The veteran driver grabbed the pole and led 89 laps this past week at Richmond before the improbable ambulance incident ended his night early. So the No. 20 Toyota has been very fast the last three weeks. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has been a very consistent performer on intermediate ovals all season with three Top-10 finishes and an average finish of 10.2 in six events. He hasn't led any laps on these intermediate ovals in 2017, but he's been good enough to crack the Top 10 most weeks. Kenseth's career 50-percent Top-10 rate at Chicago is only more assurance of consistency for this weekend's 400-mile battle.
Chase Elliott – The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet is making his second-career start at Chicago this weekend and his second-straight appearance in the Chase for the Cup. The young driver has been inconsistent over the last few weeks. However, Elliott has been pretty strong on the intermediate and larger ovals all season long. His recent eighth- and 11th-place finishes at Michigan and Darlington are evidence of that fact. In this event one year ago Elliott qualified 14th on the starting grid and peddled to an impressive third-place finish in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400. His last outing on a 1.5-mile oval netted a third-place finish at Kentucky Speedway in early July. The indicators clearly point to this weekend being a successful kickoff to Elliott's Chase for the Cup.
Jamie McMurray – With his 14th-place finish at Richmond last Saturday night, McMurray locked down a berth in the Chase for the Cup. He's back in the playoffs thanks largely to his season-long consistency on these intermediate ovals. McMurray was only one of three drivers to nab five or more Top 10s on the intermediate oval circuit this season. The veteran driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has only three Top 10s in 14 starts at Chicagoland Speedway. However, he finished just outside the Top-10 in last season's Chicago race with a steady 11th-place effort. McMurray will be pumped up for this first race of the Chase, and he should continue his Top-10 ways in this very crucial race.
Ryan Blaney – Thanks to his first-career victory at Pocono Raceway in the early summer, Blaney will be taking part in this season's Chase for the Cup. The driver of the No. 21 Ford has been excellent on these cookie cutter ovals this season, so we're expecting a good Chase debut for the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing team. Blaney logged three Top 10s and a respectable average finish of 12.5 on the intermediate oval circuit this year. That also included a surprising 231 laps led on these style ovals. Blaney made his Chicagoland Speedway debut last season and piloted the team's Ford to a strong fourth-place finish in this event one year ago. It's clear that the young driver likes racing at this speedway.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Ryan Newman – The Richard Childress Racing veteran has been red hot leading up to the Chase, so this slow down rating may surprise most. Newman rides a four-race Top-10 streak into the Windy City this weekend. However, we're calling for the streak to be broken in this Sunday's Tales of the Turtles 400. Newman has been invisible on these cookie cutter ovals all season long. With only one Top-10 finish in the six events to-date, his average finish sits at a lofty 24.8 on these style tracks in 2017. Quite frankly, he's had difficulty maintaining the lead lap on these ovals. Newman's Chicago stats are pretty strong with a 60-percent Top-10 rate at the track, however, he did finish a subpar 19th-place in this event one year ago. It's best to lay off any fantasy racing expectations for Newman this Sunday afternoon.
Kasey Kahne – Kahne is entering the final 10 races of his career with Hendrick Motorsports. We'd like to be optimistically nostalgic about it, but recent levels of performance have been pretty woeful. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet has no Top-10 finishes in his last five starts and a lowly 22.8 average finish across this recent span. Intermediate ovals have been a real problem for this driver and team in 2017, as Kahne has only one Top-10 finish in the six 1.5-mile oval events and a similarly poor 23.7 average finish. His four Top 10s in 13-career Chicago starts comes in at a lowly 31-percent rate. It's hard to get excited about Kahne at Chicago, even despite the fact he's one of the Chase participants.
Austin Dillon – Despite winning on the similarly configured Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this season, Dillon is a driver to avoid this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Outside of the fuel mileage win at Charlotte, there hasn't been a whole lot to point to for the No. 3 team on these intermediate ovals. Three of the six races have yielded finishes outside the Top 25, and the two others finishes outside the Top 15. The average finish checks in around 21.0. That's only slightly better than his career average finish at Chicagoland Speedway, which stands at a lofty 24.3 in three-career starts. There are better options available than the No. 3 team this week.
Clint Bowyer – Nothing much has gone right for Bowyer and the No. 14 team this past several weeks. He comes to Chicago outside of the Chase for the Cup, and mired in a four-race Top-10 drought. Bowyer's struggle to finish 24th this past week at Richmond is really demonstrative of his problems right now. Intermediate ovals were really one of his better aspects this season with two Top-10 and six Top-15 finishes in the six events to-date. However, this team is really struggling right now. Bowyer was set up for similar success this past weekend at Richmond, and this driver and team simply didn't deliver. It doesn't help matters that Bowyer hasn't cracked the Top 10 at Chicagoland Speedway since the 2013 season. That only further dims our expectations for him this weekend.