Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Geico 400

by Eric McClung on September 14, 2011 @ 17:35:42 PDT

 


Like so many other tracks on the schedule, Chicagoland Speedway is a 1.5-mile D-shaped oval, but is slightly different from most cookie-cutter tracks. In terms of corner banking, Chicagoland has the least amount any 1.5-mile track other than Kentucky Speedway and Kansas Speedway. The unique element of the track is the curved back stretch. Since Chicagoland lacks a true straightaway, drivers cannot simply cruise near the wall at any point on the track. It may have some quirks but reviewing the results from other intermediate tracks, particularly Kansas, is a good temperature check while owners are making their picks.

Owners facing prequalifying deadlines will get the benefit of two Friday practices session prior to qualifying on Saturday. Checking these results is a huge benefit in order to see what drivers have unloaded with an early edge and are most likely to score a prime starting position.

Location: Joliet, Ill.
Shape: D-shaped oval
Length: 1.50 miles
Laps: 267
Turns 1-4: 18 degrees
Front stretch: 11 degrees
Back stretch: 5 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

It's impossible to argue against making Gordon the top pick this week at Chicagoland. Since 2002, he's collected a win, a pair of runner-up performances and three more top-fives. Over the last five races at the site, Gordon has recorded an average running position of at least 10th and has run in the top 15 all day on three occasions. Since June of this season, Gordon has been among the top performers on a weekly basis. With the Chase now here, things should only get better.

Carl Edwards | No. 99Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Over the last four starts at Chicagoland, Edwards has seen his average running position improve since race. Last year, he finished as the runner-up while running sixth, on the average, while never dropping below 12th at any point in the race. As good as Edwards has been this season, he had opportunities to sit at the top of the standings. While he owns one victory this season, Edwards has four runner-up performances, including last week at Richmond International Raceway.

Tony Stewart | No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

This season could go down as Stewart's worst to date, yet what he's capable of at Chicagoland still warrants attention. With a career average running position of 7.4, Smoke leads at drivers at the site. In addition to a pair of wins, Stewart is the only wheelman with seven top-fives and eight top-10s. Although he’s yet to win in 2011, Stewart has finished 12th or better in 10 of the last 14 races. We may not see a dominant performance but Stewart should be somewhere in the mix.

Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing

By now you've come to realize the limited number of Cup statistics for Keselowski really doesn’t matter. Just start him. The blue deuce is coming off a 12th-place finish at Richmond, ending a streak six consecutive top-10s, which featured a stretch of four top-three finishes. Back in June, Keselowski won at Kansas, the most similar venue to Chicagoland, albeit on fuel mileage.

A.J. Allmendinger

A.J. Allmendinger | No. 43 Best Buy Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

In three career starts at Chicagloland, Allmendinger has finished in either the 13th or 14th position each time. While the results have been similar, his qualifying efforts have steadily improved. Last year, Allmendinger spent a career-high 74.2 percent of the laps inside the top 15. Now partnered with crew chief Greg Erwin, the Dinger has finished 12th or better in five straight. While Allmendinger may not challenge for a win, he's among the safest options in the middle tier of drivers.

Clint Bowyer | No. 33Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Last year, Bowyer finished a career-best fourth at Chicagoland, his fourth top-10 in five starts at the site. In each of the last two at the site, he spent exactly 99.3 percent of his laps in the top 15 while holding respective average running positions of sixth and seventh. While Bowyer has only registered a single top-10 finish over the last 10 races and missed the Chase, he's held an average running position of 15th or better in six of the last seven indicating the No. 33 has remained competitive.

David Ragan | No. 6 UPS "We Love Logistics" Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

The driver of No. 6 enters Chicagoland coming off a fourth-place result at Richmond, his first top-five since winning at Daytona International Speedway in July. In four career tries, Ragan has registered a pair of top-12 finishes at this venue. Earlier in the season at Kansas, he scored a respectable 13th-place finish. With some momentum gained, perhaps Ragan will deliver something more.

Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

One driver to pay very close attention to during the practice sessions is Vickers. Even though the illness that cut his 2010 season short kept him from racing at Chicagoland, his numbers from the past are impressive indeed. In five career starts, Vickers captured the pole once and has qualified on the first three rows a total of four times. In addition, he's never finished worse than 14th and has posted an average running position of seventh or better three times since 2005.

Temper your expectations

Jamie McMurray | No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

A year ago at Chicagoland, McMurray qualified on the pole and finished a career-best fifth after leading 72 laps. Also, his average running position of third rated him best among the field. This season, McMurray has rarely looked like that driver who also won three races in 2010. Back in June, Jamie Mac qualified sixth at Kansas but was quickly a lap down before finishing 29th.

David Reutimann | No. 00 Tums Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

Even though Reutimann is the defending winner at Chicagoland and has claimed three consecutive finishes inside the top 15 there, he's a big risk. For starters, he's only collected one top-five and two top-10s all season. However, since that lone top-five came at Kansas, you don't want to write Reutimann off completely. Keep an eye on the speed charts from practice, just in case. Unless Reutimann is near the top, the double zero would appear to be a non-factor.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts.

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