Chicagoland: Series round 19 preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Chicago Stewart Sizzles In Summertime As the temperatures heat up, so does Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet). Not only does Stewart top the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, he has...

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series News & Notes - Chicago

Stewart Sizzles In Summertime

As the temperatures heat up, so does Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet).

Not only does Stewart top the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, he has two wins under his belt and is moving in on Kyle Busch's (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) and Mark Martin's (No. 5 Kellogg's/CARQUEST Chevrolet) series-best three wins thus far. Seems like a good time to be heading to a track where he has excelled.

"It's a place I like," Stewart said of Chicagoland Speedway, site of Sunday's LifeLock.com 400. "This place is really getting racy as far as finally being able to move around and change lines and run anywhere from the bottom to the top. It's a fun track because of that."

Stewart is tied with Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Pennzoil/Shell Chevrolet) for most wins at the track with two each. His wins came in 2004 and 2007, while Harvick won back-to-back in 2001 and 2002.

With a series-high Driver Rating of 105.0 over the next eight events, the highest percentage of laps in the top 15 (75.3) and top average running position (10.3), Stewart seeks to improve his potential Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup seeding.

"I don't watch the stats very much," he said. "You just take it week to week. Technology in this sport changes so fast. What was good the last time you were here doesn't mean it's going to be good the second time around. So you constantly have to work. You've got to keep pushing the envelope."

Even though he leads the Race to the Chase -- the 10-race stretch prior to the Chase -- it's key for Stewart to gain another 10 bonus points (Chase drivers are seeded according to the number of wins they accrue during the season's first 26 races.)

Three Could Be The Magic Number For Montoya

Three just might be Juan Pablo Montoya's (No. 42 Target Chevrolet) lucky number.

This is the third consecutive week the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver has secured a top-12 spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.

Three years ago at Chicagoland Speedway, the Colombian native announced he was leaving Formula 1 to come to NASCAR.

The 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' 2007 Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award, and now in his third full season, Montoya currently is 11th in the standings, only 14 points behind 10th place Matt Kenseth (No. 17 USG Ford) and 21 points ahead of Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) in 12th.

With five top-10 finishes in the last seven starts, Montoya is looking to secure a spot in the Chase.

Race To The Chase Heats Up As Kasey Kahne Rejoins The Battle

Despite a 15th-place finish last Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, Kasey Kahne will head to Chicagoland Speedway inside the top 12, which makes him Chase eligible.

But he does have some work to do. Kahne leads 13th-place Mark Martin by only 65 points.

"To get caught up in that wreck on the last lap at Daytona and still gain a spot in the standings is pretty cool," Kahne said. "The competition is so strong.

"It's hard to gain ground when everyone challenging for those final Chase spots is getting strong finishes."

And by strong finishes, he could mean fellow Chase contender Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished ninth at Daytona, and, of course, standings leader Tony Stewart who won last Saturday's race and heads into Chicago with a 180-point lead over second-place Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Patriot Academy Chevrolet).

Even with five former series champions in the current top 12 -- Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge) and Matt Kenseth -- Kahne is optimistic.

"There is still a lot of racing left before the Chase starts," he said.

Chicagoland Speedway's Victory Lane Has Seen Wide Variety Of Winners

Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet), Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman (No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet).

Sounds like a dream lineup, right?

Perhaps, but what they also have in common are NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at Chicagoland Speedway. And two drivers have more than one victory here.

In only eight years, the track has seen six winners -- including Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, who both have two Chicagoland wins.

In fact, Harvick won the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup races the track hosted in 2000 and '01 and has the best average finish at Chicagoland: 7.375.

Could returning to a track where he knows how to win be the boost Harvick needs in a difficult season? Chevrolet leads all manufacturers at the Joliet, Ill.-track with six and currently is leading the series in manufacturer points with 135 over Toyota (100), Ford (84) and Dodge (77).

One driver who could join Harvick and Stewart as a two-time Chicagoland winner is Kyle Busch, who won both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Chicagoland last season. Currently eighth in the standings, Busch said last year's sweep was special.

"Winning both races at Chicago last year, it was just a great weekend," he said. "It was special, but there have been several special wins the last couple of years.

"Winning at Atlanta, Daytona, and Infineon last year, and winning at home in Vegas and on my birthday in Richmond were also great races. But winning Chicago last year and beating Jimmie (Johnson) was definitely neat.

"Ultimately I have a lot of respect for him, Jeff Gordon, and anybody in this sport since it's so competitive. To go out and beat guys like that, it's something that's pretty special. I really cherished that ... and I know M&M's did, too."

Another driver battling for Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility, Kasey Kahne, would like to change his Chicagoland luck.

"I think this weekend could be one of those weekends where we qualify well and have a good race Saturday night," Kahne said.

First-Half Highlights Promise More Close Competition, Excitement

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series enters the second half of 2009, here's a glance at the surprises, comebacks and new winners thus far.

* The Return Of Mark Martin: Even though he currently finds himself outside of the Top 12, and Chase eligibility, he has three wins (at Phoenix, Darlington and Michigan) -- tied for series best with Kyle Busch -- and has made history as one of only four drivers to win a race after the age of 50.

* The Rise Of Stewart-Haas Racing: Everyone knew Tony Stewart could win races, but could he do it as a driver/owner? Sure looks like it. In his first season as co-owner of Stewart-Haas, he leads the series standings and has two victories.

* Three First-Time Winners: Brad Keselowski (No. 25 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet), David Reutimann (No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota) and Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) each captured their first NASCAR Sprint Cup wins this season. Logano also earned the title of youngest winner in series history at the age of 19 (besting Kyle Busch's record of 20 years).

* The Stats Speak: Seven different teams in the top 12; eight different Coors Light Pole winners; all four manufacturers have won a race and are in the top 12; and 11 different race winners this season (there were 12 different winners all of last year).

* Double-File Restarts -- Shootout Style: It kicked off at Pocono Raceway, creating exciting racing action and enhanced competition for drivers and fans alike.

RCR Looks For Turnaround At Chicagoland

Seven different teams populate the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top 12, the most after 18 races since the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup expanded to 12 teams in 2007.

But one team is noticeably missing from the list -- Richard Childress Racing.

After putting all three of its cars in last year's Chase, RCR expanded to a four-car operation in the offseason.

Currently, none of those four cars have a victory this season, and the closest driver to a Chase spot is Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) in 15th-place.

Eight races remain until the Chase's start, meaning RCR must move quickly if it wants to make a serious playoff push. This Saturday night's race at Chicagoland might prove a good launching point.

Burton has finished in the top 10 in two of the last three Chicagoland races, including a runner-up finish in 2006. Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Burton has a Chicagoland Driver Rating of 82.3, 25 Fastest Laps Run and an 11th-fastest Green Flag Speed of 167.219 mph.

Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios Chevrolet), currently 16th in the series points, has been in a slump over recent weeks.

After spending the first 10 weeks in the top 12 -- with a high-position of second -- Bowyer has finished outside the top 10 in 10 of the last 12 races.

Still, he is solid at Chicagoland, finishing in the top 10 in two of the last three races.

At Chicagoland, Bowyer has an Average Running Position of 16.9, a Driver Rating of 79.4 and four Fastest Laps Run.

The RCR driver with the strongest record at Chicagoland is also the one furthest from Chase contention: Kevin Harvick.

Slumping through a surprisingly difficult season, Harvick is 26th in points. Statistically, this weekend seems like a perfect opportunity to turn that around.

Winner of the first two series races held at the track, Harvick has a Driver Rating of 114.9 (third-best), a series-best Average Running Position of 5.6, 37 Fastest Laps Run (ninth) and a series-best Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 96.3%.

Casey Mears (No. 07 Jack Daniel's Chevrolet) is also strong at Chicagoland, finishing in the top 10 in two of the last four races, including a fifth-place run in 2007.

Mears, 22nd in series points, has a Driver Rating of 79.2, an Average Running Position of 16.9 and 15 Fastest Laps Run at Chicagoland.

Midwest Natives Come Home With One Thing On Their Minds: A Win

Long a breeding ground for stock-car racing and local and short-track action, the Midwest will welcome home some of its natives this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

A number of Illinois natives work in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage, notably two crew chiefs -- Rockford native Chad Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson, and Decatur native Drew Blickensderfer, who's in his first season as crew chief for another Midwesterner, Wisconsin's Matt Kenseth.

Other Illinois natives include:
* Jay Frye (Rock Island) -- No. 82 & No. 83 general manager
* Eric Maycroft (Algonquin) -- No. 19 front tire changer
* Andy Spenner (Hoyleton) -- No. 31 mechanic/catch can man
* Matt Swiderski (Chicago) -- No. 07 engineer
* Chris Spaulding (Gurnee) -- No. 88 engineer
* Brad Dusterhoff (Chicago) -- No. 1 engine tuner
* Jim Gilbert (Belleville) -- No. 82 transport driver
* Nick Odell (Springfield) -- No. 18 front tire changer
* Andy Kreup (Breese) -- No. 24 pit support.

Off-Track News At Chicagoland Speedway

Chicagoland Speedway's Craig Rust will kick off this weekend as the track's new president.

International Speedway Corporation announced Rust's move from president at Watkins Glen International to Chicagoland Speedway last month. Rust had been president at Watkins Glen since April 2002 and has been involved in motorsports since 1996.

The Goo Goo Dolls will perform following Thursday's qualifying at 9 p.m. in the Miller Lite Pit Stop in Champions Park. This isn't the first time the New York-based rockers have performed for NASCAR fans.

Last year, the trio performed at the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard, and in 2003 the band joined Sheryl Crow, Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn and others in Daytona Beach, Fla., as part of an all-star musical charity fundraiser and tribute to Dale Earnhardt.

Fans of NBC's "Late Show" will recognize a familiar face at this year's Chicagoland race -- Jimmy Fallon.

The "Saturday Night Live" star turned late night show host will serve as Grand Marshal.

One of country music's newest stars, Jessie James, will sing Saturday's night's National Anthem prior to the start of the LifeLock.com 400. James is known for co-writing songs with pop star Katy Perryand and has toured with the Jonas Brothers.

A free Race Fan Rally on Downtown Joliet's Chicago Street from 4-11 p.m. Wednesday, July 8, will include appearances by NASCAR drivers, show cars, a classic car show, simulators, an interactive area for kids, food and entertainment.

Drivers scheduled for Q&A's on the entertainment stage include: Jason Leffler (5-6 p.m.); Burney Lamar (5-6 p.m.); John Wes Townley (6-7 p.m.); David Stremme (7-8 p.m.); Justin Allgaier (7-8 p.m.); Michael Annett (9-10 p.m.) and Kevin Hamlin (time TBA).

Virtual Motion NASCAR Racing Simulators will be stationed throughout the Downtown area, and the Harrah's Joliet Entertainment Stage will feature musical entertainment by Cowboy Troy and the Penny Mae Dixon Band. The Righteous Hillbillies and the Cadillac Casanovas will also be on-stage.

Milestones this week include:
John Andretti -- 375 starts
Tony Stewart -- 375 starts
Robby Gordon -- 325 starts

The NASCAR Foundation has joined forces with Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity, for a summer-long food drive with a goal to provide 350,000 meals in 2009 to children and their families in need starting this weekend.

In partnership with Feeding America, The NASCAR Foundation has created several opportunities for fans to join these efforts including a Track Walk at Chicagoland Speedway on July 11 at 8 a.m. and the online virtual food drive conducted throughout the summer NASCAR Sprint Cup season.

The online virtual food drive begins this week and runs through August 31. Fans can visit www.NASCAR.com/foundation to create their own virtual food drive and set goals for number of meals raised. Friends and family members can track an individual's progress at his or her personal food drive page, which allows users to do photo uploads, personalized messages and a goal tracker. Participants who raise a minimum of $30 will receive a "Walking the Walk to End Children's Hunger" T-shirt.

Proceeds from all of these initiatives will go to benefit The NASCAR Foundation and Feeding America. To get started today or to learn more visit www.NASCAR.com/foundation.

Up Next: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Jeff Gordon owns the most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins and poles at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard, which begins at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 26. Other interesting notes:

* Jimmie Johnson, who earned his second Indianapolis win last year from the pole, is tied with Tony Stewart and Dale Jarrett with two wins there, surpassed only by Gordon's four victories.

* Jimmie is one of two drivers to w\in from the pole. Kevin Harvick did it in 2003.

* Thanks to Gordon and Johnson, Rick Hendrick owns six Indianapolis wins, the most of any team owner, He's followed by Joe Gibbs with three. Richard Childress and Robert Yates each have two wins.

* Gordon took the checkered flag in the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis on Aug. 6, 1994. Just 23 years old, he led 93 of the race's 160 laps and passed Ernie Irvan for the win.

* Four drivers have the most starts at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with 15 -- Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin.

Fast Facts

The Race: LifeLock.com 400

The Date: Saturday, July 11
The Time: 8 p.m. ET

The Track: Chicagoland Speedway (1.5-mile tri-oval)
The Distance: 400 miles/267 laps

TV: TNT, 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, Sirius (local MRN: WUSN-FM 99.5/WCSJ-FM 103.1)

2008 Polesitter: None (weather)
2008 Winner: Kyle Busch

Pre--Race Day Schedule: (All times local CT) Thursday -- Practice, 4-5:30 p.m. Qualifying, 7:40 p.m.; Friday -- Practice, 4-4:45 and 5:20-6:20 p.m.

-credit: nascar

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