The MENCS will return to the Heartland Sunday for some exciting racing at Chicagoland Speedway. The race at this track was one of the best of the 2018 season. I expect the same this week. This track is bumpy and wears out tires because of the harsh winters in the Midwest. Pit strategy and getting their cars at the perfect height to navigate the bumps will be the key to success at Chicagoland. The Camping World 400 can be seen Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Net. (Yes, NBC Sports Net. Not Fox…so make sure you have the right channel).
Goodyear will bring a new tire compound to Chicago this week. This track wears tire fast so 4 tire pit stops will be common in this race. The tires are the same compound tested in May and all 3 series will run the same tire compound. Each team will receive 3 sets of tires for the 2 practices, 1 set for qualifying and 8 sets for the race.
Three drivers participated in a tire test at Chicagoland Speedway in May. The drivers included Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard. These drivers should have an advantage when the cars unload Saturday since they will have a good idea of how the tires will wear during the race.
Chase Elliott: Elliott has been good at Chicagoland Speedway in his career. He has finished two of his three races at the track in the top three and he has scored Stage points in every Stage. Elliott has been very good since his win at Talladega. No driver has a better average finishing position than Elliott since the end of April. Elliott made some long runs and said, “The car starts out really free but it builds tight after 8 – 10 laps. I would like it to start off a little tighter because it should still be good at the end of the run.” After his final run the No. 9 team told Chase, “You are the best at the bottom of the track and the No. 4 is the best at the top.”
Jimmie Johnson: Chicagoland Speedway is one of the tracks where Johnson has never been to Victory Lane. You would think that getting a win at this track has to be high on his too do list. Johnson has been solid in the last 3 races on the 1.5-mile tracks. He finished 5th at Texas, 6th at Kansas and 8th at Charlotte. Johnson said his biggest issue was the bumps. He said, “The car has good speed but the bumps through it all over the track. If we can get it a little smoother, it should be good.”
Alex Bowman: Bowman has been good on the large oval tracks since the Cup Series left Texas. He finished 2nd at Kansas (very similar track to Chicagoland Speedway), 7th at Charlotte and 10th at Michigan. Bowman has never finished outside the top 10 at Chicago since he joined Hendrick Motorsports. Bowman liked his car. He said, “The front is getting punished. Every lap I can feel the splitter hitting the track. That might be something we want to look at.” At the end of the first practice, Bowman said he had a vibration in the driveshaft. The team changed it between the two practice sessions.
William Byron: Byron has been awesome at qualifying on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He qualified 2nd at Texas, 3rd at Kansas and 1st at Charlotte. He also finished in the top 10 in 2 of these races. Byron liked his car. He said, “The only issue is it is free through 3. The other corners are pretty good.”
Kyle Larson: Larson has been very good at Chicago because he is the best at running the top of the track. That may not be the fastest way around Chicagoland Speedway this week. Larson has been hit or miss on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He finished 3 of the races in the top 12 and 2 races outside the top 30. Larson had slower lap times in practice mostly because he was working in a groove at the top of the track. After his last long run he said, “I am wagging the tail on entry and exit.”
Kurt Busch: Busch has been very good in the races where the 550 HP engines and higher downforce package has been used. His finishes in these races are: 3rd, 5th, 6th, 9th, 7th, 27th and 2nd. Not too bad. Busch made some long runs and said, “The balance is really good but on a scale of 1 -10 for the bumps, it is about an 11.5. The splitter is getting beat to hell.”
Kevin Harvick: Harvick is the king of stats at Chicago and on the 1.5-mile tracks. He ranks very high in laps led, Stage points scored and Driver Rating. The problem is that this team continues to beat themselves. Harvick said this week on his radio show that SHR had a game plan for the 2019 and it was in the complete wrong direction. He felt that they are finally heading in the right direction to get back to winning races. Harvick spent a lot of time running the top of the track in final practice. That is why his lap times were a bit slower.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has been better on the shorter tracks than he has been on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. That does not mean he is not a good pick. Bowyer finished 5th at Chicago last year and he has 3 finishes in the top 5 on the 1.5-mile tracks in 2019. Bowyer liked his car, hated the track. He said, “Damn… these bumps are worse this year. I am taking a beating wheeling this rocket around the track. She has good speed though.”
Daniel Suarez: Suarez has competed in 2 Cup Series races at Chicagoland Speedway and he finished 11th and 12th. He is running better this season than he was at Joe Gibbs Racing so I expect a top-10 finish from Suarez this week. Suarez started practice with the same setup as Kevin Harvick. Saurez said, “The car is loose in 3 and 4. It is worse in traffic.”
Aric Almirola: Almirola has been at his best this season on the 1.5-mile tracks. His average finishing position in the 5 races is 9th. He has a history of being involved in wrecks at this track so he will need his luck to change Sunday.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski is the safest driver in the field this week. He has not finished worst than 9th at the track since 2010 (that is 8 consecutive top-nine finishes). There have been five races this season on 1.5-mile tacks and Keselowski has won two of them (Atlanta and Kansas). He should score a lot of Stage points and finish in the top five Sunday. Keselowski made some long runs and his only complaint was, “rear grip.” The car was pretty close to where they need it to be.
Joey Logano: Logano has also been a top-10 machine at Chicagoland Speeday. Logano has not finished outside the top 10 in this race since 2013. He has also scored Stage points in every Stage at the track since NASCAR began awarding Stage points. Logano won the last race using the 550 HP engine (at Michigan) and he should be a threat to win again this week. Logano made some long runs and said, “Traffic is horrible. When I get in traffic the balance completely goes away. When I run by myself it is pretty good. That has been the story this year with this aero package.” Logano said after Xfinity Series qualifying, “I learned a lot in the Xfinity car and I really think it will help me on Sunday.”
Ryan Blaney: Blaney usually excels on the 1.5-mile tracks but that has not been the case in 2019. He finished 22nd at Atlanta, 22nd at Las Vegas, 37th at Texas, 32nd at Kansas and 13th at Charlotte. Not good. He will need better luck this week. The No. 12 team rolled off the truck with a lot of speed. Blaney was fastest early in the first practice. He made some long runs and said the car is really good at the bottom but too free at the top. Jeff Burton said on TV, “Ryan Blaney looks really good. He drove his car from the back of the pack to the front.”
Paul Menard: Menard won the pole at Chicagoland Speedway last year. That is about the only thing that has been good for him at this track. Menard has a 21.33 average finishing position at Chicago. This season Menard has finished between 14th and 19th on the 1.5-mile tracks. That is about his floor and ceiling for the race Sunday. Menard spent a lot of time drafting with the Team Penske drivers. His car was too loose. Most of his lap speeds were between 18th and 22nd.
Kyle Busch: Busch won this race last year by using the chrome horn to move Kyle Larson out of the way. If he has the chance to do the same Sunday he will do it again. Love him or hate him, you have to like having a driver on your team who will do anything to win. Busch had a lot of complaints about the car in first practice, but he always does. The team made a lot of adjustments and Busch said, “The driveabilty is a lot better.” He was also having problems running the bottom of the track like he wants to.
Erik Jones: Jones ran well at Chicagoland Speedway last year. He qualified 9th and finished 6th. He has been pretty good on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He finished 7th at Atlanta, 4th at Texas and 3rd at Kansas. Jones was too tight in practice. He hard a hard time running laps inside the top 15.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin is a hard driver to trust. He usually runs up front but he gets slapped with a speeding ticket or problems in the pits at the end of the race. He should be a good pick if he can avoid stupid penalties. Hamlin finished 6th, 1st, 6th, 4th and 7th in his last 5 races at the track. Hamlin made some long runs and said, “It is too free at the bottom and the top. Not bad in the middle. It is very consistent though. The car is about the same at the begging of the run as it is at the end of the run.” Hamlin told NBC Sports, “The car is exceptionally good.”
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex won the last race on a 1.5-mile track (Charlotte) and it would not surprise anyone if he was in Victory Lane again Sunday. Truex has been the most consistent driver at Chicagoland Speedway over the last 3 seasons. He won the races in 2016 and 2017 and he finished 4th at the track last year.
Matt DiBenedetto: The No. 95 car has full support from Joe Gibbs Racing. They are starting to show some signs of life. He will have some momentum after his awesome run at Sonoma. DiBenedetto spent a lot of time in practice following Kyle Larson at the top of the track. He reported the car was too loose.
Daniel Hemric: Hemric will be making his 1st start at Chicagoland Speedway in the MENCS. He does have 2 races on his Xfinity Series resume at the track. Hemric finished 4th in 2017 and 5th last year. Hemric has only been mediocre on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. His average finishing position in the 5 races is 23rd. Hemric rolled off the truck with the 11th fastest speed. The team made some changes and Hemric said, “That is the wrong direction. Put it back.”
Austin Dillon: Chicagoland is the worst non-Road Course track for Dillon. He has competed in 5 races at the track and his average finishing position is 25.2. Dillon also has a 21.2 average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Dillon was complaining that his car had, “no side bite and it is way too tight at the bottom.”
Ty Dillon: Dillon has been good on the short tracks and horrible on the large ovals. His average finishing position in the 5 races on the 1.5-mile tracks is 25.2. His average finishing position at Chicagoland Speedway is 27.67. Not very good stats. Dillon was happy with his car. He said, “It has a lot of grip. We just need to iron out some of the details.”
Ryan Preece: Preece has never competed in a MENCS race at Chicagoland Speedway. He only has 1 race in the Xfinity Series at the track (He finished 17th in 2016). This season Preece has a 27.6 average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks. His best finish in these races is 22nd. Not good. Add Preece’s name to the drivers who were complaining about his car being too loose over the bumps.
Chris Buescher: Buescher finished 10th at Kansas, 6th at Charlotte and 16th at Michigan. He has been the biggest surprise of the 2019 season and he should continue to run well Sunday. Buescher made a long run and complained about the bumps. The team worked on the springs and sent him back out. Buescher said, “Much better.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse has competed in 6 races at Chicagoland Speedway and his average finishing position is 18.17. He has performed better on the 1.5-mile tracks this season than he has in the past. His average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season is 11.2. Stenhouse could be a good sleeper pick this week. Stenhouse made some long runs and said, “It is really loose in traffic. I would like to run the top but I feel it is too loose right now to run consistently up there.”
Ryan Newman: Newman had been mediocre at Chicagoland Speedway and he has been mediocre on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. His average finishing position at Chicago is 14.71 and his average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks is 17.4. Newman said his car was too tight in the center of the corners at both end of the track. Newman went to the top of the speed chart in final practice but his car was in qualifying trim.
Favorites to win Sunday: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. (You can never count out Truex even when his lap speeds are down)
Good Sleeper Picks: Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson, William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Daniel Hemric and Ty Dillon
MENCSl Final Practice Speeds
Final Practice 10-Lap Average Speed
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