NASCAR Picks for Chicagoland
Length: 1.500 miles
Shape: D-Shaped Oval
Location: Joliet, Illinois
The 2014 Cup Series regular season is in the books, and the Chase for the Sprint Cup officially kicks off this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. The track is one of four on the 10-race Chase schedule with a 1.5-mile layout, and Sunday's MyAFibStory.com 400 will already be the seventh race of the year at a 1.5-mile oval. While the drivers and teams will be very familiar with the layout of Chicagoland, there are still plenty of unknowns surrounding the race thanks to the revamped playoff format. There will be 16 drivers competing for the championship this year, and with four drivers being eliminated after every three races with points resetting after each round of eliminations, it will be interesting to see how the championship-eligible approach the early races of the Chase.
In years past, the Chase was always one of the more friendly stretches of the year for fantasy owners. History says that drivers in the Chase will dominate the action, and the drivers not competing for a title have usually taken it easy on the title contenders rather than risk wrecking one of the drivers competing for a championship. With the expanded field and restructured format, it remains to be seen if the trend of Chasers dominating in the playoffs will continue and to what extent.
Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite, Team Penske [Yahoo Class B]
He rolls into the Chase on the heels of a dominating win at Richmond, and in the last three races at Chicagoland, Keselowski's 125 points scored are the most in the series. He has compiled a series-leading 4.3 average finish during the stretch, finishing seventh or better in all three races. Keselowski also ranks third in laps led over the same span, winning the 2012 event.
Kevin Harvick, #4 Budweiser/Jimmy Johns, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Harvick actually won the first two races held at Chicagoland, and he has remained a force at the track throughout his career. In 13 starts, he has seven finishes of fourth or better, including two Top-3 finishes in his last three starts. Meanwhile, Harvick's 438 laps led at 1.5-mile tracks in 2014 lead all drivers.
Jimmie Johnson, #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Although he has never won a race at Chicagoland, Johnson has still amassed some impressive numbers at the track. His 8.9 average finish ranks second in the series, and he has 10 Top-10 finishes in 12 starts, including seven Top-5 finishes. Johnson has finished 10th, second and fifth in his last three starts at Chicagoland, and during the stretch, no driver has led more laps at the track.
Jeff Gordon, #24 Drive to End Hunger/Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
He is a former winner at Chicagoland, and Gordon has been rock solid at the track throughout his career. In 13 starts, he has nine finishes of 11th or better, including six finishes of fourth or better. Gordon finished sixth at Chicagoland last year, and he currently ranks second in the series in points scored at 1.5-mile tracks in 2014.
Matt Kenseth, #20 Husky/Dollar General, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Don't forget about Kenseth this weekend just because he hasn't won a race this year. For one, he is the defending winner of this weekend's race. More importantly, he is the only driver to finish in the Top 10 in all six races at 1.5-mile tracks in 2014, and his 232 points scored in those six races lead all drivers.
Joey Logano, #22 Shell-Pennzoil, Team Penske [Yahoo Class B]
While his overall numbers at Chicagoland aren't great, Logano has been a new man at 1.5-mile ovals in 2014. In six starts, his 228 points scored are tied for the second most in the series, and he also ranks third in laps led. Logano has been the best driver in the series in the six races leading up to the Chase, and there is no reason to think he won't have a career run at Chicagoland Sunday.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., #88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
He has been good but not great at Chicagoland throughout his career, but he did pick up a win at the track in 2005 thanks to some clever pit strategy. Meanwhile, Junior has two Top-10 finishes in his last three starts at the track. He has been one of the steadiest week-to-week performers all season so another Top-10 run this weekend seems likely.
Kyle Busch, #18 Mars Brands/Interstate Batteries, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Busch may be the biggest wild card heading into the Chase, and he has been as erratic as ever in 2014. That being said, he is a former winner at Chicagoland, and he has finished fourth and second in his last two starts at the track. When he is hot, he is as good as any driver in the series. For fantasy owners that need to be aggressive in order to try to gain ground in the final 10 races, Busch is a driver worth targeting.
Tony Stewart, #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class B]
It's no secret that Stewart has had a rough year on and off the track, but now that he has officially missed the Chase, he and his team can shift their attention to putting together solid runs rather than trying to steal a win. Plus, Chicagoland has always been kind to Stewart, and his 8.5 average finish at the track is the best in the series. Stewart has 10 Top-10s in 12 starts at Chicagoland, including six straight. He also has eight Top-5 finishes at the track, including a series-leading three victories.
Kasey Kahne, #5 Farmers Insurance/Quaker State, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Although he tends to run hot and cold at most tracks, Kahne has been surprisingly steady at Chicagoland. He has cracked the Top 15 in his last six starts at the track, finishing 12th or better in his last five starts. During the stretch, Kahne has finished sixth or better three times, logging a pair of third-place finishes. Not to mention the fact that the last time the series visited a 1.5-mile track, Kahne was celebrating in victory lane at Atlanta.
Carl Edwards, #99 Fastenal/Aflac/UPS/Subway, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Roush Fenway Racing hasn't shown the speed to win on larger ovals this year, but Edwards has held his own at 1.5-mile tracks. In six starts, he has four Top-10s and ranks sixth in the series in points scored. He has also tallied four Top-15 finishes in his last five starts at Chicagoland. Expect him to finish in or around the Top 10 Sunday.
Clint Bowyer, #15 5-Hour Energy, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Bowyer has quietly been one of the steadiest performers at Chicagoland throughout his career. He has seven Top-10 finishes in eight starts, including five straight. Overall, he owns a 10.0 average finish at the track, including a 7.8 average finish in his last five starts. Bowyer should make a solid addition to fantasy rosters in any format.