Fantasy NASCAR preview: 400

by C.J. Radune on July 8, 2009 @ 17:00:00 PDT


Chicagoland Speedway features several grooves that allow cars to race all over the track. It is the sister track of Kansas Speedway as the dimensions at both tracks are very similar. Chicagoland is a fast track with room for a lot of passing due to the wide layout. Cars run high rpms and engines are strained as a result, not to mention the mid-July heat. With the typically hot and humid weather creating less dense air, the engines will strain to breathe and could lose some power as a result.

Passes, and therefore crashes, most frequently occur in Turn 2 as cars exit the banking onto the back straight. Tire wear tends to be minimal here, so tire strategy rarely comes into play. Even so, the summer heat makes the rubber already on the track very slippery. This causes cars to slide, thus increasing the chance for accidents and passes for position. Drivers and teams will work to balance the car throughout the day for maximum grip.

Location: Joliet, Ill.

Shape: Tri-oval
Length: 1.50 miles
Laps: 267
Turns 1-4: 18 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Matt Kenseth | No. 17 USG Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Kenseth, who holds down 10th in Cup points at the moment, scored his seventh top-10 finish of the season last weekend at Daytona International Speedway. Chicagoland Speedway is a very different track than Daytona but one that Kenseth excels at. Kenseth's average finish from eight career starts at the track is 9.8. He hasn't won there, but he consistently finishes in or around the top 10. Roush Fenway Racing teams know how to get the job done on flat wide tracks, and Chicagoland isn't an exception. Look for Kenseth to use his consistency to his advantage and score his 12th top-10 of the season.

Brian Vickers | No. 83 Red Bull Toyota | Red Bull Racing

Vickers scored his seventh top-10 finish of the season in the Coke Zero 400 last weekend at Daytona. If Vickers isn't finishing in the top 10 this year you can usually find him outside of the top-15. The season has been a picture of inconsistency so far. In four career starts at Chicagoland though, Vickers has yet to finish outside of the top 15. His average finish in that time is 9.3 with an average start of 6.5. He hasn't led many laps at the track, just two in last year's 400, but he runs smoothly enough throughout the day to score top finishes. Vickers, with Toyota power, is definitely a driver fantasy owners should feel confident choosing this weekend.

Kevin Harvick | No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

This season has been a bad dream for Harvick. He is only 26th in Cup points so far and has just two top-fives to his credit. If there was any weekend where Harvick could get the monkey off of his back, it would be this weekend at Chicagoland. In eight career starts at the track Harvick has taken home two wins, five top-fives and six top-10s. His worst finish at the track was 19th in the 2005 USG Sheetrock 400. His average finish at the track is 7.4, and he led 282 total laps there as well. If fantasy players can't rely on Harvick this weekend, then he may be written off for the remainder of the year. Harvick should be a solid start.

Martin Truex Jr. | No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing

Truex finished ninth in last year's 400. His career average finish at the track is 21.3 from three tries. Were it not for an engine failure near the end of the 2007 USG Sheetrock 400 his average would probably be much better. He led 12 laps that day after starting second and only completed 211 of the 267 laps. Teammate Juan Pablo Montoya has found consistency in 2009, and some of that development will find its way to Truex. This weekend could be a bright spot in an otherwise gray season for Truex - not just because of the press conference announcing his move to Michael Waltrip Racing. Look for Truex to be a contender in this weekend's 400.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

Earnhardt's season to forget continued in last weekend's Coke Zero 400. He was taken out of contention early by an accident that only allowed him to complete less than half of the race. Earnhardt's average finish at Chicagoland in eight career starts is 15.3. He won the 2005 USG Sheetrock 400 and has just one DNF at the track. Even though Earnhardt has struggled in 2009, the few bright spots on Earnhardt's 2009 score sheet were at flat and wide tracks similar to Chicagoland.

Temper your expectations

Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

Edwards scored a top-five finish in the Coke Zero 400. While we know that Roush Fenway Racing cars typically run well at flat tracks like Chicagoland, Edwards has bucked that trend at this 1.5 mile tri-oval. He scored just one top-five finish in his four career attempts there. His average finish at the track is a lowly 23.5 over that time. Certainly Edwards is a driver that you typically would not sit, but his ability to finish Chicagoland races is strongly suspect. Edwards' statistics don't add up for the 400, and fantasy owners should be wary of that this weekend.

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

Hamlin really wanted to notch a win at a superspeedway but came up short in last weekend's Coke Zero 400. He led 63 laps en route to a third-place finish, his fifth top-five of the season. Unfortunately those types of expectations don't carry over to Chicagoland Speedway. Hamlin's average finish in three career starts at the track is 23.7. His best finish at the track is 14th in the 2006 USG Sheetrock 400. Hamlin's Chicagoland statistics are disappointing and should signal fantasy players to stay away. The Chase run may take a short breather for the No. 11 this weekend.

Ryan Newman | No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Newman must be itching to match his team owner's performance in 2009. Two points wins and leading the championship standings gives Newman's boss plenty of room to gloat over his teammate. Newman's results have waned since his last top-five result in the Pocono 500. He has now spent four races outside of the top 15. While Chicagoland hasn't been all bad memories for Newman, consistency has been elusive there. In eight career starts Newman scored a win, two top-fives and four top-10s at the track, but his average finish is just 17.6 thanks to two poor outings (36th and 29th) and an accident in 2004. He has averaged ninth place in his last two finishes, but it seems to be hit or miss for Newman at Chicagoland, so make sure some other options are available to you.

Kasey Kahne | No. 9 Budweiser Dodge | Richard Petty Motorsports

Kahne holds the 12th and final spot in the Chase for the Championship. Since his win in the Toyota/Save Mart 350, Kahne has score a top-10 and a top-15 finish. Hat is decent consistency from Richard Petty Motorsports. Chicagoland has been something of a sore spot for the Enumclaw, Wash. native, though. His average finish in five career starts at the track is 29.4, and his best finish there was a 15th in the 2008 400. Kahne may be making a run for a Chase spot, but he will have to overcome Chicagoland to retain his grip on it. Kahne isn't the strongest choice in this weekend's 400.

Clint Bowyer | No. 33 Cheerios Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing

Bowyer was in line for a strong run in last weekend's Coke Zero 400, but it was all for naught as he was caught in an accident which slowed him. He finished the day 29th and fell to 16th position in the points. Times haven't been too bad for Bowyer at Chicagoland. Some of the success at the track from teammate Kevin Harvick has certainly found its way to Bowyer's car. His first two starts at the track resulted in top-10 finishes, but he slipped in 2008 finishing 22nd. Bowyer's average Chicagoland finish in three career starts is 13.7. He isn't one to ignore this weekend, but he certainly shouldn't rise to the top of owners' lists.

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About C.J. Radune

Radune has been a KFFL contributor since January 2008.

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