Chicagoland: Round 19 preview

*Kyle Busch Building Chase Seeding *Season Hits Midway Point *Chicagoland Ready To Turn On The Lights *Summer Stretch Fits Stewart's Style *The King Celebrates 50 Years In NASCAR Busch Piling On Chase Bonus Points Every inch matters. In this...

*Kyle Busch Building Chase Seeding
*Season Hits Midway Point
*Chicagoland Ready To Turn On The Lights
*Summer Stretch Fits Stewart's Style
*The King Celebrates 50 Years In NASCAR

Busch Piling On Chase Bonus Points

Every inch matters.

In this case, mere inches amounted to a 20 point swing as drivers compete for Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility.

When a caution flag came out on the last lap of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR officials reviewed video to determine Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Toyota) was just ahead of Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford) and thereby the winner of the race.

Not only did the win boost Busch's lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, it earned him yet another 10 potential bonus points.

Each win during the series' first 26 races is worth a 10-point bonus if a driver makes the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Busch has six wins, which would give him a commanding lead in Chase seeding.

If Edwards had passed Busch, he would have earned the bonus points and cut Busch's lead.

With only eight races remaining before the Chase begins, teams that are comfortable with their position in the standings will start taking more chances to win races and earn precious bonus points.

Because just like inches, every point matters.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hits Halfway Mark

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has run half its season, with surprises and stellar competition the highlights of the first 18 races. A number of storylines have emerged, starting with Kyle Busch's dominance. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard/Amp Energy Chevrolet), whose move to Hendrick Motorsports set the wheels in motion for Busch's move to Joe Gibbs Racing, grabbed his first win in over two years and is second in the standings.

Other top storylines include Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Dodge) and Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) experiencing resurgent seasons, Hendrick Motorsports "struggling" and new blood at the top of the heap with Busch, Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman (No. 12 Kodak Dodge) all leading the standings for the first time in their careers.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Mid-Season Look
18 of 36 races complete
10 different race winners
11 different pole winners
46 drivers have led at least one lap
74 different drivers have attempted to qualify for at least one race
All four manufacturers are in the top 12
All four manufacturers have won at least three races

Chicagoland Speedway Hosts First Night Race

Chicagoland Speedway underwent a noticeable facelift during the off-season, adding lights to the 1.5-mile facility. Friday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race will be the first under the lights followed by the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series on Saturday night.

"We are very excited to showcase our newly installed lights at Chicagoland Speedway during NASCAR race weekend," said Matthew Alexander, president of Chicagoland Speedway. "Night racing is one of the most thrilling experiences for fans to be a part of, and now we will be able to bring that type of buzz and exciting atmosphere to our facility for fans to enjoy. This is an exciting step for the growth of racing in the Chicago market."

The new lights have been welcomed by many NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, including two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet).

"It's going to be a learning curve racing at Chicago under the lights for the first time, but I'm looking forward to it," Johnson said. "Chicagoland is where I got my first NASCAR win (in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2001) and we've run well there in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. It'd be great to get a win there for (crew chief) Chad (Knaus), since it is his home track."

Stewart Not Worried About Summertime Lull

Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota) will win at least one race in the Race to the Chase.

That is, of course, if Stewart continues a trend he started when the series expanded to 36 races in 2001. Since then, Stewart has at least one win -- and as many as five -- each season during the middle 12 races on the schedule. Stewart is winless in 2008, but isn't worried.

"It's not like we're not running well, because we are," Stewart said. "We've just had some circumstances that haven't gone our way. You'll have that. We tend to be a late-blooming team anyhow. We plan on doing the same thing we do every week. We're not changing our approach. Every week our goal is to win the race, and that's not going to change."

That goal of winning seems to be easier for Stewart during the middle of the season. In 90 mid-season races since 2001 (races 13-24 on the schedule), Stewart has 15 wins, 37 top fives and 51 top 10s. In contrast, he has 17 wins in his other 248 races.

"We always seem to run well at Chicago," he said. "We're cautiously optimistic that we're going to run well.

We need a good week, that's for sure. The good thing is that the morale of the team is up. This team has battled adversity so many times that it takes a lot to beat this team down."

In The Loop: Chicagoland Set Up For Stewart-Harvick Showdown

This Saturday night at Chicagoland Speedway, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell Pennzoil Chevrolet) will wage what could be an epic head-to-head battle.

Sure, there will be 41 other cars out there. But right now, Stewart-Harvick is the main event.

Only two points separate the two in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. The winner will either stay in the top 12 (if Stewart finishes ahead of Harvick), or will move into the top 12 (if Harvick finishes on top).

What makes this even more intriguing is that both are phenomenal at Chicagoland.

Only two drivers have multiple wins at Chicagoland -- Stewart and Harvick.

The two, along with Matt Kenseth (No. 17 USG Ford), are the only drivers with more than 200 laps led at Chicagoland. And Stewart, Harvick and Kenseth are the only drivers with Driver Ratings above 110.0.

In other words, the battle for a coveted top-12 spot will be held up front.

Over the past three years, Havick owns slightly better stats at Chicagoland than Stewart. Below is the tale of the tape:

Driver Rating: Harvick leads 114.6 to 112.2

Average Running Position: Harvick leads 5.4 to 7.6

Fastest Laps Run: Stewart leads 82 to 27

Laps in the Top 15 percentage: Harvick leads 95% to 88.2%

But since 2005, Kenseth has been the class of the Chicagoland field -- despite zero trips to Victory Lane.

Over the past three years, Kenseth has notched two runner-up finishes (2005 and 2007) and a 22nd-place finish in 2006 after leading a race-high 112 laps.

During that span, Kenseth has racked up series-high marks in Driver Rating (126.2), Average Running Position (3.9), Fastest Laps Run (146) and Laps in the Top 15 (792/98.5%).

Also watch for wins and standings leader Kyle Busch to make a strong push for another 10 potential Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup bonus points. With his win at Daytona, Busch now has 60 bonus points, opening up a 40 point lead over Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne.

There's a good chance he'll add to that total. In his Chicagoland career, Busch has a Driver Rating of 105.0 (fifth-best), an Average Running Position of 7.8 (fourth) and 25 Fastest Laps Run (tied for eighth).

"The King" Celebrates 50 Years In NASCAR

This Saturday marks a special day in NASCAR history, as "The King", Richard Petty, celebrates the 50th anniversary of his first NASCAR start. Petty made his debut at Columbia (S.C.) Speedway on July 12, 1958 in the old NASCAR Convertible Division. He finished sixth in the 25-car field, setting the pace for the most successful stock car career in history.

Petty was Tuesday's guest on the NASCAR Cam teleconference. Here are some highlights:

On this closer competition nowadays
"You know, it's been harder to do, because you have to figure that the cars are running so much closer now, and you can't afford to get a lap down or two laps down no matter how fast your car is; you're not going to win."

On his career
"I just think I was a lucky son of a gun to be born at the right place at the right time under the right circumstances with a little bit of talent and a lot of talented people around me to put me in a position to be where I'm at today."

On advice he received from his father
"Anybody's bad luck is somebody else's good luck. I always look at it that way. And no matter how hard you work, this is one of my daddy's deals: Okay, no matter how hard you work, you have to work for it, and you always figure that you're going to get the pluses out of it. "

Richard Petty By The Numbers
200 Career Wins (record)
7 Championships (tied for record)
126 Career Poles (record)
7 Daytona 500 Wins (record)
27 Wins in a Season (record)
61 Wins from the Pole (record)
10 Consecutive Wins (record)
1,185 Career Starts (record)

Smith Tops Rookie Standings; Toyota Earns Seventh Win

Regan Smith (No. 01 Principal Financial Group/DEI Chevrolet) picked up nine rookie points at Daytona and reclaimed the lead in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings from Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge).

Kyle Busch's Daytona victory was the seventh of the season for Toyota, which leads all manufacturers. Dodge and Chevrolet have four wins, while Ford has three.

Chevrolets have dominated at Chicagoland Speedway, winning six of the track's seven races. Dodge has the seventh victory at the track.

NSCS, Etc: This Week's Happenings On -- And Off -- The Track

Local Knaus On Top Of The World

Chad Knaus has come a long way since racing with his father at Rockford (Ill.) Speedway. The Rockford native has been a crew chief in NASCAR's top series since 2001 and has spent the last two as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. He knows he finds himself in a unique position.

"I've had an amazing career," said Knaus, crew chief of Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet. "If it wasn't for NASCAR, this whole thing, I don't know where I would be. Just everything this sport has given me has been pretty phenomenal."

In a recent NASCAR Beat podcast interview, Knaus also talked about the annual trip home.

"It's one of my favorite race tracks," he said. "It's a phenomenal facility and it's obviously not far from where I grew up. It's just outside of Chicago. It's a phenomenal city. It's one of my favorite cities in the world, so it's definitely a place I like to race."

Series Director Darby Among Illinois Natives In Garage

In addition to Knaus, the group of Illinoisans in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage includes series' Director John Darby, also from Rockford. Darby, who has been the series' top official since 2002, began his racing career with his own team at Rockford Speedway in 1971.

Team Red Bull General Manager Jay Frye, who is from Rock Island, always enjoys the trip to Chicago.

"It's really great to go back home to Illinois and race at Chicagoland Speedway," Frye said. "I always seem to bump into old acquantainces at the track, and it's nice to play catch up. I'm looking forward to heading back home."

Other Illinois natives include:
Chris Spaulding (Gurnee) -- No. 88 engineer
Andy Spenner (Hoyleton) -- No. 31 mechanic and catch-can man
Damian Albrecht (Carrollton) -- No. 22 shock specialist
Keith Armstrong (Viola) -- No. 42 tire specialist
Kyle Bazzell (Fairburg) -- No. 48 transporter driver
Brian Bottlemy (Johnsburg) -- No. 16 front-tire changer
Bryan Dunaway (Momence) -- No. 45 gas man
Andy Kruep (Breese) -- No. 24 windshield/driver support

Nationwide Joins Blood and Marrow Drive

The NASCAR Foundation has joined efforts with Nationwide Insurance and The Nationwide Foundation for The NASCAR Foundation Third Annual Blood & Marrow Drive Presented by Nationwide on Sept. 11, 2008.

The drive, which encourages fans to roll up their sleeves and sign up as a marrow donor to help save a life, is a partnership between The NASCAR Foundation, Jimmie Johnson Foundation, Hendrick Marrow Program and 26 NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Series tracks. The drive has collected enough pints of blood and names for the National Marrow Donor Program® registry to potentially save more than 16,000 lives since its launch in 2006.

As part of their support, The Nationwide Foundation gave a $100,000 grant to the Hendrick Marrow Program to support marrow testing, which costs approximately $52 per person.

Truex Hits Century Mark

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) will be making his 100th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start this weekend. Truex has one win, one pole and 25 top-10 finishes in 99 starts. In two Chicagoland starts, Truex has finished 16th and 39th. He has one top 10 in three NASCAR Nationwide Series starts at the track.

Up Next: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes its final break of the season next week before heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Allstate 400 at The Brickyard on July 27.

Tony Stewart started 14th last year before driving through the field to capture his second Brickyard victory.

Reed Sorenson (No. 41 Target/Tums Dodge) started on the pole.

The Race: LifeLock.com 400
The Place: Chicagoland Speedway

The Date: Saturday, July 12
The Time: 8 p.m. (ET)

The Track: 1.5-mile oval
The Distance: 400 miles/267 laps

TV: TNT, 6:30 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS Satellite Radio

2007 Winner: Tony Stewart
2007 Polesitter: Casey Mears

Pre-Race Schedule (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

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Ryan Newman , Casey Mears , Jimmie Johnson , Richard Petty , Kasey Kahne , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , Regan Smith , Reed Sorenson , Chad Knaus , Sam Hornish Jr. , Kyle Busch
Teams Hendrick Motorsports