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Fantasy NASCAR Race Preview: GEICO 400
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. Chicagoland has the least amount of corner banking among the 1.5-mile tracks, other than Kentucky Speedway and Kansas Speedway. The unique element of this track is the curved back stretch. Since Chicagoland lacks a true straightaway, drivers cannot simply cruise near the wall at any spot on the track. It may have some quirks, but reviewing the results from other intermediate tracks, particularly Kansas, makes for a good review while owners are evaluating picks for the first race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Practice sessions: Friday, Sep. 13 at 1:00 p.m. EDT, Saturday, Sep. 14 at 11:00 a.m. EDT, 2:00 p.m. EDT
Drivers to keep an eye on
Johnson starts the Chase three points out of first place but has finished outside of the top 25 in the final four races of the regular season. Chicagoland is a fine place for Johnson to seek out his sixth championship. He's never won in his 11 career starts at the site, but he's recorded nine top-10s and five podium finishes, including last year's Chase opener. It comes as no surprise Johnson's average running position of 7.2 at Chicagoland is tops among all drivers.
Busch was holding onto a top-10 finish late into the 2011 race at Chicagoland but ran out of fuel after taking the white flag. He returned to the site last year unphased to finish fourth with an average running position of seventh and 95.1 percent of his laps spent in the top 15, Rowdy's best performance since winning here back in 2008.
Edwards is coming off a victory last week at Richmond International Raceway and has done well lately at Chicagoland. He held an average running position of sixth in the 2010 and 2011 races and spent all but three of the combined 534 laps running in the top 15. Edwards didn't run as well at the site last year but has been far more consistent this season.
In seven career starts, Bowyer has only finished outside of the top 10 once at Chicagoland. He also recorded 97 percent or more of his laps running in the top 15 in three of the last four. Bowyer was looking sharp last week at RIR but would take a dive in an effort to keep Ryan Newman from winning, thus getting teammate Martin Truex Jr. into the Chase. The obvious manipulation of the outcome backfired, however. Bowyer may not be a popular guy right now, but he's led 48 or more laps in three straight races and is capable of getting up front once again.
Earnhardt looks like a safe middle-tier option for Chicagoland where he won back in 2005. He's finished inside the top 15 in nine of the last 11 races this season and is one of five drivers currently at the bottom of the Chase standings. The last two years have seen Earnhardt finish third and eighth at Chicagoland.
Since 2008, Kahne has recorded five straight top-15s at Chicagoland with a pair of third-place finishes. Last year he set a career-best average running position of third at the site and spent the entire race running in the top 15. Kahne has been hot and cold throughout the season but has clearly been very good at Chicagoland in recent years.
The spinout scandal cost Newman a victory last week at RIR, which would have given him two on the season. NASCAR officials made sure Newman got his rightful place in the Chase, though, where he'll look for his third consecutive top-five of the season. Newman has been solid at Chicagoland, with five top-10 finishes in six starts since 2007.
After finishing fifth at Chicagoland in 2011, Keselowski won this race last year with 76 laps led. Last week, the Blue Deuce paced a race-high 142 laps after qualifying third at RIR but lost all track position following an untimely caution flag. Keselowski won't be defending his title but is certainly looking to crash the postseason party.
Temper your expectations
Kenseth is on top of the standings thanks to his season-high five wins. However, he's finished outside of the top 15 in three of the last four trips to Chicagoland. Kenseth did run well in 2011, where he also led 46 laps, but he ran out of fuel late in the race only to have a mediocre run last year. Allocation owners likely need a place to consider passing on Kenseth; Chicagoland is such a track.
Since 2009, Harvick has qualified outside the top 25 in all four Chicagoland races. He finished as the runner-up in 2011 but recorded an average finish of 21.6 in the other three races. Harvick ended the regular season with just two top-10s over the last seven and isn't among the hottest top-tier options right now.
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