Chicagoland marks the first race of NASCAR’s playoffs, The Chase. It’s “Go Time” for teams and this first race will help separate the contenders from the pretenders. Chicagoland is a good barometer for who’ll do well in the Chase. It’s a 1.5 mile track and 5 of the 10 races in the playoffs are held at tracks of this length. Practice is very important at Chicagoland. That said make sure you read our Practice Notes (Practice #2 Notes and Happy Hour Notes) and check out our Practice Speeds (Practice #2 Speeds and Happy Hour Speeds). I think some of the driver quotes from our practice notes should prove really helpful. Also some 15 lap average speeds are at the bottom of our practice notes. Our Chicagoland Speed Cheat Sheet tool will help make it clear who’s been good between the practice sessions. At Chicagoland starting position isn’t overly important but it’s always a good plus. Here’s a link to the Chicagoland starting lineup. I will note this post is a combined Confidence Ranking Picks post and Post Practice Predictions post. Regular posts will resume as normal next week. This post has tons of information and is loaded with content for the top 30 drivers.
1) Kevin Harvick (Starting – 1st) (Odds To Win – 9/2) (Risk Factor – Low)
What you need to know about him – Kevin Harvick will be a good fantasy NASCAR pick to win at Chicagoland. There’s “horses for courses” and this is one of his special tracks. He almost always runs well here and it ranks as one of his best intermediate tracks. This year at 1.5 mile tracks Kevin Harvick has consistently been one of the drivers to beat and there’s no reason to expect a letdown. In practice the #4 car was fast. In practice #2 he liked his car and his ten lap average speed ranked as the 4th best. In Happy Hour he remained fast and the #48 team thought he looked the strongest running the top groove. His ten lap average in that session ranked as the 8th best.
Chicagoland History – Chicagoland has been a special track for Kevin Harvick. He won the inaugural race here and backed it up the following year with another trip to victory lane. Harvick’s top five finish percentage at Chicagoland is 57% percent, at no other venue is it higher. Also at Chicagoland Harvick has a 9.6 average finish and has only had one result outside the top twenty. In three of the last four races here he’s finished in the top five. Over this four race stretch he has a 5.5 average finish and the 6th best driver rating. Last year he had a great car. He earned the 2nd best driver rating, 2nd best PROS Ranking, finished 5th and led 79 laps. Also it should be noted his race wasn’t incident free and during a caution on lap 67 while he was running around 4th he had to make an extra pit stop for a loose wheel which dropped him to 20th. In 2013 he had a great performance finishing 3rd and earning the 7th best driver rating. In 2012 he had an OK race. He started deep in the field but rallied to a 12th place finish. In 2011 he finished runner-up.
Recent Similar Track Trends – At 1.5 mile tracks this season Harvick has scored the most points, has a 4.0 average finish, 4.3 average running position, has led the most laps and has run the most fastest laps. Also it should be noted he’s one of just two drivers who have finished in the top ten every race.
Momentum – At Richmond Harvick had his first non-top ten finish of the season where he didn’t have problems. In the four races prior to that event he finished in the top ten.
Further Recommended Reading – Fantasy Scouting Report – Chicagoland, PROS Rankings, DraftKings Points From The Last Race At Chicagoland, NASCAR Odds To Win At Chicagoland
2) Jimmie Johnson (Starting – 11th) (Odds To Win – 12/1) (Risk Factor – Low)
What you need to know about him – Jimmie Johnson is a “Juggernaut” who shouldn’t be overlooked. 1.5 mile tracks are his strength this year and on Sunday NASCAR is racing at one of these venues. In the six races held at tracks of this length he’s won half of them and has run well in all six of them. At Chicagoland Johnson has historically been a phenomenal performer and since Loop Data’s inception he has the best driver rating, best average running position and has led the most laps. In practice Jimmie Johnson liked his car. In practice #2 he was good over long runs and had the best 10 lap average and 15 lap average. He was also pleased with his handling that session. In Happy Hour it backed it up wit the best 10 lap average and 15 lap average speeds.
Chicagoland History – Chicagoland has been a great track for Johnson. He’s never won here in a Sprint Cup car but in the Xfinity Series it’s the site of his lone win. Performance wise Johnson has been good enough to win here a handful of times. Over the last three Chicagoland races he has the best driver rating, best average running position, has led the most laps and has a 6.3 average finish. Last year he was about a 5th to 8th place performer but at the end he faded back a handful of positions to 12th. It should be noted in the race he had a 7th place average running position and earned the 8th best driver rating. In 2013 Johnson had a great car that might’ve been good enough to win but he faced major adversity on pit road, twice. His first issue came around lap 75 while he was leading when his pit crew had a 20 second pit stop. That dropped him back to 6th. Then later in the race on lap 149 during pit stops his jack broke and that cost him about 20 positions. From that point on he rallied hard to finish 5th. In the race it should be noted he led 40 laps and earned the 3rd best driver rating. In 2012 he had a very fast car. In that race he started on the pole, earned the best driver rating, finished 2nd, had a 2nd place average running position and led 172 laps. He was leading at the time of the last round of pit stops but Keselowski got around him while he was blending into traffic and after that Johnson had nothing for him. If he would’ve maintained the lead following that pit cycle I think he would’ve won. In 2011 Johnson finished 10th but that result deserves an asterisk mark. On the last lap while he was running in 3rd he ran out of gas.
Recent Similar Track Trends – This year at 1.5 mile track Johnson has won half the time but when he hasn’t reached victory lane he has a 30th place average finish. It should be noted he’s run fairly well in all these races. Las Vegas was his first non-victory race of the year at these venues and in that race he was leading at the time he had trouble and had to make an emergency pit stop. Eventually he wrecked which led to his 41st place finish. At Charlotte he was top five good but wrecked. Kentucky is the most recent track of this length visited. In that race he didn’t win but there’s nothing wrong with his 9th place result.
Momentum – Since Pocono 2 minus Michigan where he had problems Jimmie Johnson has a 9.6 average finish.
3) Brad Keselowski (Starting – 3rd) (Odds To Win – 6/1) (Risk Factor – Low)
What you need to know about him – Brad Keselowski doesn’t plan on points racing his way to Homestead, he plans on winning races to get there. At Chicagoland he’s the most recent winner and has been the victor in two of the last three races. This season at high-speed intermediate tracks Keselowski has been a strong performer but he’s lacking overall speed compared to the other elite teams. He won at Auto Club Speedway but that was 100% the product of being on fresh tires at the end. One attribute you really have to like about Keselowski is his momentum. 9 straight top tens which equates to a quarter of the season can’t be overlooked. In practice Keselowski seemed content with his car and in practice #2 his ten lap average ranked as the 7th best. In Happy Hour his ten lap average ranked as the 6th best.
Chicagoland History – Brad Keselowski has been very good at Chicagoland and is the defending champion. In the last four races he has two wins, the second best driver rating, a 3.5 average finish and has led 144 laps. Last year he had a great car and raced his way to victory lane. In the race he had a fast car that worked good in traffic which was important because he started in 25th. Also it should be noted his race wasn’t incident free and on lap 181 during a round of pit stops he had to make an extra pit stop for a loose wheel. In addition to winning he also earned the 3rd best driver rating, had a 7th place average running position and led 62 laps. In 2013 Keselowski had a solid race. He started 2nd, earned the 5th best driver rating and finished 7th. In 2012 Brad Keselowski had a great car and went to victory lane. Also in that race he earned the 2nd best driver rating, had a 3rd place average running position and led 76 laps. During the last round of pit stops he cycled ahead of Johnson for the lead and that’s where he ran for the remainder of the race. In 2011 he finished 5th.
Recent Similar Track Trends – This year at 1.5 mile tracks Brad Keselowski is one of two drivers who have finished in the top ten every race and his average result is 6.8. In all of these races he’s finished between 5th and 9th. Also it should be noted he has a 7.8 average running position and has led laps in every race for a combined 146 laps.
Momentum – At Richmond Keselowski earned his 9th straight top ten finish. Over this stretch he’s scored the 3rd most points and has a 5.8 average finish.