I swear I won't talk this much about NASCAR in future entries. So for those of you that dislike NASCAR for some stupid reason, this blog entry isn't for you. Come back on Tuesday to see non-NASCAR related entries from me.
To the topic at hand, this is my favorite weekend of the year. The one and only stop the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series' make to the Chicagoland area is this weekend. This is already the eighth season of racing at Chicagoland Speedway and this year there's a new twist to the excitement. Night racing makes it debut in Joliet as both the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup Series will be held under the lights on Friday night and Saturday night respectively. Out of the 80,000 fans that pack the speedway's grandstand each year, this will probably be the first weekend for many of those fans to experience the spectacle that is night racing. So let's preview the two big events this weekend.
Dollar General 300 - Nationwide Series: Friday night will mark the first night race to ever be held at Chicagoland Speedway as the Nationwide drivers take to the track for the 300 mile event. This race has been very condusive to first-time winners in the series. Jimmie Johnson won his first (and only) race in this series at Chicagoland in 2001. Johnny Sauter won his first Nationwide race here in 2002. Justin Labonte and Casey Mears also won their first and only races at the track in 2004 and 2006. So four of the seven winners in this event have all been first-timers. I'm not too good with math, but that's better than 50%. If it happens again tomorrow night, look for Landon Cassill to be the driver to accomplish the feat. Cassill just turned 19 years old this past week and has really improved each and every week he has run in the series. Cassill won the pole in the last race he was in at New Hampshire. He's also driving for the same team that Mark Martin won for at Las Vegas earlier this year. Las Vegas is a very similar track to Chicagoland, so that could bold well for the kid.
As expected, there are a lot of Sprint Cup drivers entered in this event. Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, and David Reutimann are all running the Nationwide Series full-time as well as the Sprint Cup Series. Names like Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers, and Kevin Harvick are just a few of the Cup regulars that will run in tomorrow night's event. My pick to click for tomorrow night will be Tony Stewart. Stewart's running in the #20 car that has absolutely dominated Nationwide competition this season. Stewart, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and 18-year old Joey Logano each have won races in the car. Stewart has had great success at Chicagoland Speedway as he has won two Sprint Cup races at the track. He'll contend for the win on Friday night.
Fuel milage and late race pit strategy always seems to figure into the outcome of this race. Jimmie Johnson used a bit of pit strategy to get him out front late in the race. Justin Labonte and Casey Mears' wins came due to fuel milage. There always seems to be a surprise contender at the end of this race and I expect that to be no different tomorrow.
Lifelock 400 - Sprint Cup Series: The action at Chicagoland Speedway culminates with the running of the Lifelock 400 on Saturday night. Last year marked the second repeat winner in the seven year history of the track as Tony Stewart cruised to an easy win. Jimmie Johnson was in hot pursuit of Stewart throughout the whole race, but a flat right rear tire sent him hard into the turn 3 wall. Other past winners include Kevin Harvick (the other repeat winner), Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Ryan Newman.
The key to winning this race is getting track position and getting in clean air. Cars always run faster and handle better out in clean air, but at Chicagoland it seems like there's an even higher demand for clean air. Tire wear isn't really bad at this track, so several drivers running mid-pack in the early stages of the race usually stay out during a caution or they use a bit of strategy to get out front. And the result always turns out well for those teams and drivers that can get out front. This is the first Sprint Cup race with the Car of Tomorrow at Chicagoland Speedway, so it will be interesting to see how that will factor into the track position game on Saturday.
Since this is the first Car of Tomorrow race at the track, it is somewhat of an unknown on who will run well and who won't. It's a safe bet to figure that Kyle Busch will run up front and he should be in position to win because he is every week. Carl Edwards has been stout at many of the 1.5 mile tracks this season. And you can never count out the two repeat winners in Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart.
My pick to win the Lifelock 400 is Jimmie Johnson. He only has one win to his credit this year, but he has run extremely well in the past few weeks. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the finishes to show for it but his performance is getting better and better every week. He ran well at Texas and Lowe's Motor Speedway, which are somewhat similar tracks to Chicagoland. Look for his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. to be right with him throughout most of the race. Junior won at Michigan and hasn't really had a bad run all season. 2006 race winner Jeff Gordon is a relative unknown for this race. He has run better lately, but he still does not have a win this season.
Enjoy the weekend, ladies and gentlemen. I'll be at the track to see these two races unfold in person and I'm pumped up about it. At least this has given me some relaxation from watching Ted Lilly and Michael Wuertz suck at pitching.