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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch Fantasy Insider: Cookie-Cuttering, Windy City Style

There are few, if any, tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit as sterile as the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway. The epitome of a cookie-cutter oval, there will likely be few, if any, surprises at the front this Saturday night, so make sure you leave your underdog drivers sitting on the bench. Indeed, the big names of the big teams are likely to dominate in such a convincing manner that the little guys might as well not make the trek from Daytona. Still, there are big names out there who have been unable to get a grasp on the constantly-curved Illinois circuit, so leave it to the Frontstretch Fantasy Insider to ensure you avoid these tricky gusts and wind your team’s way into victory lane in the Windy City.

By the Numbers

Best Average Finish at Chicagoland Speedway (since 2005, active drivers)
Kevin Harvick, 4 starts, 7.5
Brian Vickers, 3 starts, 7.7
Kyle Busch, 4 starts, 7.8
Matt Kenseth, 4 starts, 8.2
Greg Biffle, 4 starts, 9.2

2008 USG Sheetrock 400 Top-Five Finishers
Kyle Busch, 165 laps led
Jimmie Johnson, 15 laps led
Kevin Harvick, 0 laps led
Greg Biffle, 43 laps led
Tony Stewart, 11 laps led

Macadamia Nuts

With Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin all hogging headlines in the Hendrick Motorsports camp, Johnson has quietly been proving to be in competitive form well before the Chase kicks off. Johnson comes to Chicagoland with a win and five top 10s in the last six races, and was a lap or so short of fuel from making that six consecutive top 10s and two wins. And as for the one time Johnson finished outside the top 10 in the Windy City? He still led 82 laps that race. Johnson let this win slip away from him late last year, and I don’t see the three-time champ making that mistake twice. – Bryan

Kyle Busch has raced at Chicago four times in his career and has never finished lower than 14th in those four starts. He is the defending winner of this race, and his average finish is an impressive 7.8 overall. It’s a critical race for Busch to right the ship, considering he’s coming off of a weekend where the No. 18 came within a few hundred yards of winning at Daytona before a wreck relegated him to a 14th-place finish. Busch is now only 68 points ahead of 12th place in the driver standings, and would be well served to get his momentum back heading in the right direction as we close in on the Chase. Count on Busch for a strong points finish this weekend. – Mike

Chocolate Chips

Vickers and Team Red Bull have been on the cusp of victory for over a year now, but they’ve proven steady performers on track even without the Ws to go with it. Considering the team’s at their best at intermediate, 1.5-mile ovals, the No. 83 team should prove a solid fantasy selection this weekend. Coming off a top-10 finish at Daytona, Vickers heads to a track that he’s never finished outside the top 15 at and has completed every lap in each of his four starts. Plus, he finished sixth here last year with TRB… after they DNQ’d for this race in 2007. A top-10 finish this time around should be a lock. – Bryan

Stewart is riding his typical wave of summer success. Stewart has finished second, fifth and first since the seasons changed in mid-June, and he’s accumulated over a dozen of his 35 career wins in July and August. Stewart is also very strong at Chicagoland, placing in the top five six times in eight career starts at the track for an average finish of 10.3. His other two finishes were 33rd and 32nd, respectively, but neither one has occurred since 2006. With the momentum that Stewart-Haas Racing has established, it can be expected that the co-owner will put in another strong showing at one of his best tracks. – Mike

Sugar Cookies

Reed Sorenson has a career average finish well inside the top 20 at Chicagoland and has completed all but one lap run in his career at the 1.5-mile track, clocking in with a top-10 run in 2006. While the numbers haven’t been dramatic by any means, the No. 43 team has shown signs of life with the Georgia youngster behind the wheel as of late. Take away the mechanical failure at Sonoma plus the damage at Daytona, and Sorenson has seven top-20 finishes in his last eight races. It’s a risky pick, for sure, but Sorenson will be a fantasy bargain this weekend and just may be a surprise waiting in the RPM camp. – Bryan

Bill Elliott has been doing pretty well of late in his role as a part-time driver with the Wood Brothers. The Woods have gone back to their old way of racing, picking and choosing the events they want to attempt rather than running the full schedule. While it can be tough to do, they appear to be getting back into the groove that made them famous back in the day with the likes of David Pearson behind the wheel. Elliott has finished 15th and 16th in his last two races, both at 1.5-mile ovals, and has run decently at Chicago in the past with an average finish of 21st. Don’t expect to see the No. 21 in victory lane, but it is not unreasonable to think Awesome Bill will bring it home in the top 15 this weekend. – Mike

Final Word

Chicagoland Speedway has aged several years and is becoming a better racetrack because of it. The racing grooves have spread out, giving the drivers multiple options when their car is not handling at its peak. Despite the fact it’s a night race, heat can still be a factor, although the forecast is for temperatures in the low 80s… so the cars should have reasonably good grip. Being an intermediate track, fantasy owners would be well served to load their team with the usual cast of characters who run well on these cookie-cutter configurations.

Fantasy Results

Game of Tomorrow

Bryan – 4845
Mike – 4356

Hat Dance

Bryan – 3720
Mike – 3550

Four Play

Bryan – 8697
Mike – 8354

Totals

Bryan – 370 6304
Mike – 299 6008

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