The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Chicagoland Speedway this week for the Overton’s 400. NASCAR decided to squeeze all of the track activity into one day so there were two practices Saturday followed by qualifying Saturday evening.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Chicago…
Hot, Hot Hot!!!!! That is the weather forecast for this weekend. Temperatures in practice were 93 degrees with track temps around 125 degrees. The forecast for Sunday is for temperatures around 91 degrees with a slight chance of rain late in the race. The track was hot and slick in practice and it will be the same in the race Sunday. The drivers who posted the fastest times in final practice should have the fastest cars in the Overton’s 400.
Each team received 3 sets of tires for the two practices Saturday and one set for qualifying. The teams will be using the same tire compound which was used at Chicago last year. In the race the tires fell off 2 seconds during a fuel run. The Xfinity Series and MENCS will be using the same tires so the drivers competing in both races should have an edge on the completion. These drivers include: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Paul Menard and Daniel Suarez. (Ross Chastian and Joey Gase will also be competing in both races but I doubt they will have any advantage based on their poor equipment).
This is an impound race. All cars will go through inspection after qualifying. Each team is allowed to fail once. If they fail more than once they will start from the back Sunday. It will be important to keep track of this to see if any teams fail post-qualifying inspection.
Chase Elliott: Chicagoland Speedway ranks as the best track for Elliott. He has finished 2nd and 3rd in his two races at the track. Elliott should have a good idea of the setup needed this week since he will be competing in the Xfinity Series race Saturday. Elliott started off tight in morning practice and the team made a lot of adjustments to the car. At the end of practice Elliott said, “We are heading in the right direction. Each change improves the car.”
Jimmie Johnson: Chicagoland Speedway is one of the tracks where Johnson has never been to Victory Lane. He does have a 9th-place average finishing position in his 16 races at the track. Johnson is also coming off a top-five finish in the last race at a 1.5-mile track at Charlotte. The No. 48 car began the morning practice in qualifying trim. All of the Hendrick Motorsports cars were in qualifying trim in the morning practice.
Alex Bowman: Bowman filled in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Chicago last year and finished 10th. He has not had a lot of success on the 1.5-mile tracks this year, but his best race was at Charlotte. Bowman qualified 27th and finished 9th with the new Chevy engine. Bowman said, “It is good on entry but too free on exit.” The team brought him in for a wedge adjustment. It seemed to make the car a little better.
William Byron: This will be the first race for Byron in the MENCS at Chicago. Byron finished 33rd after blowing a transmission in his only Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland Speedway. Byron has an average finishing position of 25.4 on the 1.5-mile tracks this season.
Kyle Larson: Larson could be a great pick this week. Some people in the garage say the worn out surface at Chicago races a lot like Michigan. We all know how well Larson does in the Irish Hills. Larson will be competing in the Xfinity Series race so his knowledge of how the tires will wear out should really help him Sunday. Larson said, “It is really sliding into turn one but stable everywhere else. I would like to be able to run the bottom as well as the top but it is a little too tight for the top right now.” At the end of practice Larson was have brake issues.
Jamie McMurray: McMurray has been hit or miss on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has two top-10 finishes (Texas and Charlotte) and two finishes outside the top 30 (Las Vegas and Kansas). McMurray was running the top of the track in 1 and 2 and the bottom of the track in 3 and 4. This is the same line Kevin Harvick was running. The No. 1 team felt this will be the preferred line Sunday so McMurray was trying to perfect it.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick has three wins (Atlanta, Las Vegas and Kansas) and a second-place finish (Texas) in the 5 races on the 1.5-mile tracks. The No. 4 car will be tough to be this week. The No. 4 team waited 15 minutes before they went on the track. They wanted to wait until some rubber was laid down. Rodney Childers told Harvick, “Do not worry about our lap times. We did not have a fresh track. We are the fastest on the track late in the run.”
Clint Bowyer: If the people in the garage are right and this tracks does race like Michigan, Bowyer should be a threat to win Sunday. He won the race at Michigan last month. Bowyer went out and ran the bottom of the track. The No. 14 team brought him in and showed him the “Harvick line”. Bowyer went back out and ran the top in 1 and 2 and the bottom in 3 and 4. His lap times improved by 3/10 over the run.
Kurt Busch: Busch has not had a lot of success at Chicagoland Speedway but the Stewart-Haas Racing cars have been so fast that it will be hard for Busch to not finish in the top 10 Sunday. Busch has finished 4 of the 5 races on the 1.5-mile tracks this season in the top 8. Busch really liked his car. He told his team, “It is really on the edge of being too loose but it gets tighter throughout the run. It should be pretty close to what we need for the race.”
Aric Almirola: Almirola has posted career-best finishes in 6 of the races this season. His best finish at Chicagoland Speedway is 10th (in 2015). He has finished two of the last four races on the 1.5-mile tracks in the top 10, so he should be a threat to do it again Sunday. Almirola was not happy with his car in the first practice. He said, “Really, really, really tight. It is almost undividable.” They made some major changes to the car. Almirola made a long run and went to 7th on the speed chart.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski is a two-time winner at Chicago (2012 and 2014) and he has an average finishing position of 9.22. Keselowski has also finished three of the five races on the 1.5-mile tracks this season in the top 6. He should be a threat to finish in the top 10 Sunday. The No. 2 team worked on 3 setups in the morning practice and then put the best setup in the car for final practice. Keselowski went to the top of the speed chart after his first run.
Joey Logano: Logano has been Mr. Consistency on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. The No. 22 car has finished four of the five races in the top seven and led laps in all of them. Logano made some long runs in practice. The team was working on tire falloff and managing the tires. Logano said, “It feels a lot better at the bottom than at the top. The middle groove is pretty decent too.”
Ryan Blaney: Blaney has been very good at qualifying on the 1.5-mile tracks but he has had bad luck in the races. Blaney has an average starting position of 8.2 and an average finishing position of 19.2 on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Blaney had a faster lap time on lap 5 then he did on his first lap. This shows that the team had low tire pressure and once the car built up pressure it had very good speed. The No. 12 should be good on the long run Sunday.
Paul Menard: Do not forget about Menard this week. He will get some extra track time since he is competing in the Xfinity Series race Saturday. Menard has finished 9th at Las Vegas, 6th at Kansas and 14th at Charlotte. He will be driving the car that he drove at Kansas this season.
Kyle Busch: Busch has a series-best 4.2 average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He is the only driver to finish all five races in the top 10. Busch will be driving the same chassis he won the race at Texas with early this season. Busch said during the truck race, “This track is impossible to get the perfect balance in your car. You are either going to be really tight or really loose. You need to find which works best for you.”
Erik Jones: Jones only has one race at Chicagoland Speedway in the MENCS on his resume and it was not very good. Jones qualified 24th and finished 33rd last year. Jones has a 9.8 average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season so he should easily perform much better than last year.
Denny Hamlin: Chicagoland Speedway ranks as the best 1.5-mile track for Hamlin. He won in Chicago in 2015 and has finished four consecutive races at the track in the top 6. Hamlin is also coming off of back-to-back top-five finishes at Kansas and Charlotte. Hamlin was complaining the car was too tight after his first run. They worked to losen him up. In final practice Hamlin said, “The exit is all over the place.” The team planned to work with their teammates to help the car before qualifying.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez performed well at Chicagoland Speedway last year. He qualified 13th and finished 12th. Suarez has not finished any of the races on the 1.5-mile tracks this season I the top 15, but he should get some help this week since he is competing in the Xfinity Series race.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex Jr. enters the race with the most momentum. He has finished in the top 2 in four of the last five races. Truex won the last two races at Chicagoland Speedway and he should be a series threat to win again Sunday. The No. 78 team spent 20 minutes of the morning practice in the inspection tent. They wanted to make sure their car was legal so there will be no problems after qualifying.
Ryan Newman: Newman has not had any luck on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He usually runs in the top 15 but finds every wreck on the track. Newman has a 25.4 average finishing position in the five races on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Newman told the team, “We are really good at the bottom but we do not have the stability to run the top.” Overall he was please with the car.
Austin Dillon: Dillon has not been very good on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. His average starting position is 19th and his average finishing position is 20.8. Dillon has a 22.8 average finishing position in his four races at Chicagoland Speedway. Dillon was lloking for his car to be freed up in practice. He said, “Too tight in 1 and 2 and no rear grip. Turns 3 and 4 are not bad.”
Ty Dillon: Dillon has been nothing more than a top 30 driver this season. He did run well at Charlotte so there is some hope (Dillon finished 21st). If Dillon qualifies outside the top 27 he will have some fantasy value in the games which award place differential points. Dillon was complaining about the car being tight and too hot! He said they defiantly needed to work on something to keep him cool for Sunday. It seemed to really be bothering him. His car has looked as fast as I have seen it this season. Maybe they found something.
Kasey Kahne: Fantasy players should know by now what they are going to get with Kahne on the 1.5-mile tracks. He has finished all of the races between 17th – 21st positions. He will be a good pick in games which award place differential points if he qualifies outside the top 25. Kahne said, “The car bounces was too much and it has no rear grip. He was 27th-fastest at the time. At the end of practice Kahne said, The was better overall, just loose off the wall.” They seemed to happy with their car.
AJ Allmendinger: Big news for JTG Daugherty Racing… The team purchased an Optical Scanning Device (The same machine NASCAR uses to inspect the cars) two weeks ago. The team has been using the machine to help setup their car for Chicago. This should really help Allmendinger and Chris Buescher on the track. Allmendinger told the team, “It is landing tight and loose off the corner.”The team made a shock adjustment between the two practice sessions. Allmendinger then said, “It is a lot smoother now but still a little on the tight end.”
Chris Buescher: **See the notes above for Allmendinger** Buescher has been hit or miss on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has top-15 finishes at Las Vegas and Texas, but finished 34th at Kansas and 29th at Charlotte. Buescher said, “It has decent balance but it is too bouncy, especially over the tunnel turn.”
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Wallace has been a decent cheap pick in salary cap games on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Wallace has an average finishing position of 20th in the five races. Bubba spent most of the time in practice working the top groove. That could make his lap times a little slower than they actually are. The No. 43 team felt the top will be the best groove Sunday. Bubba ran over a spring ruber at the end of practice. The team repaired the grill but no major damage.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse could be a great pick on DraftKings this week. His salary is cheap and he has had decent results in the recent races on the 1.5-mile tracks. Stenhouse finished 11th at Kansas and 10th at Charlotte.
Trevor Bayne: Bayne will be back in the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing this week. He said he learned a lot from talking to Matt Kenseth about his car. We will see how much he learned Sunday. Bayne has never finished inside the top 20 in his five career races at Chicagoland Speedway.
David Ragan: Ragan has been a decent fantasy pick on the 1.5-mile tracks when he does not qualify inside the top 20. He should be a top 25 driver this week. Ragan was fighting a tight racecar. He said, “I cannot drive it into the corner as well as I like too. It is so tight that I have no throttle in it.”
Michael McDowell: Chicagoland ranks as the worst track for McDowell. His average finishing position at the track is 38.7 (ouch!!). His average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season is 22.6. Mcdowell should finish somewhere between his average position at Chicago and his average position on the intermediate tracks this season. McDowell liked the balance of his car. It was a little on the loose side but not bad. Their only problem was with the bump in the tunnel turn. The team told McDowell, “Go around the bump!”
Matt DiBenedetto: Dibendetto has been hit or miss on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He finished in the top 22 at Las Vegas, Texas and Kansas but finished outside the top 30 at Atlanta and Charlotte. The No. 32 team sent Dibendetto out for a long run and he aborted the run after two laps. He said, “Way too loose. I almost lost it off of 3.” They made some major adjustments to the car.
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch
Good Sleeper Picks: Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Jamie McMurray, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon and Bubba Wallace
Click here for Saturday Morning Practice Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
Follow me on Twitter @MrFantasyNASCAR