The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series moves to the NBC Sports portion of the schedule as they’ll take over for Fox Sports this weekend at the Chicagoland Speedway and air the remaining 19 races of the season.
Sunday’s Camping World 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) has a lot to live up to. Last year’s race was phenomenal. It was a great race all the way through including a memorable finish.
Here’s how you can watch Sunday’s race.
How To Tune In
Coverage – 3 p.m. ET
Green Flag – 3:16 p.m. ET
TV – NBCSN
Radio – MRN
Distance – 267 Laps/400.5 Miles
Stage Lengths – 80/80/107
Track – Chicagoland Speedway
Defending Race Winner – Kyle Busch
Thriller In 2018, Will We See Another On Sunday?
With a new package, what will Sunday’s race look like? Last year’s race had extreme temperatures as these guys raced in 100 degree weather. That made for a slick race track which helped in multiple racing grooves.
Mix that with the big names all coming from mid pack on back, and you got a thriller from start to finish. Race winner Kyle Busch started 16th. Second place finisher Kyle Larson came from 18th. Third place Kevin Harvick started 11th. Fourth place Martin Truex Jr. started 36th.
They all put on a show including the incredible battle of Busch vs. Larson in the closing laps. Will we see another phenomenal show on Sunday?
Toyota’s Have Shown Chicagoland Strength…But Not This Weekend
It should come to no surprise that the Toyota’s are the favorites once again. Toyota drivers have won an astounding 11 of 16 races run this season. At Chicagoland, Toyota drivers have also won in each of the past four years and five of the last six too.
Do they remain strong this weekend?
Busch, has six top 10 finishes in his last seven tries. Martin Truex Jr. has two wins in the last three years and a fourth place run last year. He also enters coming off of a win in Sonoma as well. Denny Hamlin has five straight top seven finishes including a win in his No. 11 Toyota. Erik Jones finished sixth in this race last year.
This weekend though, they’ve struggled.
Denny Hamlin was 10th and 13th respectively, defending race winner Kyle Busch was 16th and 14th respectively. Last weeks winner Martin Truex Jr. was only 23rd and 19th respectively while Erik Jones was 22nd and 17th repetitively. On the 10 lap averages, Hamlin was 16th and eighth, Busch was 20th and sixth, Jones was 15th in both sessions while Truex was 17th in final practice.
I don’t like where they sit right now. They’ll start 9th (Hamlin), 17th (Busch), 18th (Truex Jr.) and 21st (Jones) respectively.
Chevy Has Struggled As Of Late But Looks Good This Weekend
Chevrolet has just one victory this season. They only had four all of last year too. Combine that with just one victory at Chicagoland since 2010, this doesn’t look like their weekend to shine. The last two times Chevy has won, Tony Stewart was the driver to lead them to victory lane. He’s long retired now.
Plus, the top driver in the standings right now is seventh overall. Can they compete with the Toyota’s this weekend?
So far, yes.
Chip Ganassi Racing could be somewhat strong. Kyle Larson has four top seven finishes, three of which in the top five, in five starts. Kurt Busch though hasn’t finished in the top 10 in each of his last three tries but will start fifth on Sunday and was second in the first practice and fourth and 10th on long run speed respectively. Larson, will roll off 14th and was fifth and seventh respectively on the 10 lap average charts.
Chase Elliott has two top three finishes in his three Cup Series starts at Chicago but was 19th last year. Jimmie Johnson hasn’t scored a Chicagoland top five since 2013 but has been in the top 15 in each of the last eight tries.
Alex Bowman was 10th last year while William Byron was 20th.
Overall, HMS had 1-4-5-21 in the first practice on single lap speeds but 1-6-8-13 on the 10 lap average chart. In final practice, they were 6-8-9-11 and 2-3-5-11 on single lap and 10 lap speeds respectively.
Bowman, appears to be their best pick as he was first and eighth on single lap runs and first and third on 10 lap run respectively. He finished 10th in this race last year too. He will start eighth on Sunday.
Johnson, has never won at Chicagoland before (0-for-17) but was fifth and sixth respectively on single lap speeds and eighth and second respectively on the 10 lap averages. He rolls off fourth.
Byron, was in the top 10 in both single laps runs and top 11 in the 10 lap averages while Elliott who has two top three finishes in three Chicagoland starts was fifth in final practice on the 10 lap average chart. The second year driver starts 11th while Elliott rolls off 13th.
Combine that with RCR starting 1-3 and you get Chevy having a good shot on Sunday.
Ford Has Just 1 Win In 18 Chicagoland Tries Too
Ford was the last non Toyota team to win at Chicago, but that victory by Brad Keselowski in 2014 is their lone Chicagoland win in 18 tries too. So, you have Toyota who’s been dominant on the season overall as well as at the 1.5-mile track too, going against two struggling manufacturers.
Stewart-Haas Racing could be ones to beat as they were quick last year. They’ve just been shutout of victory lane this season though. Aric Almirola dominated the race last year but had pit road problems towards the end which left him 25th. His best finish in seven tries is 10th.
Clint Bowyer had a terrible day on pit road but rebounded to finish fifth. That was his lone top five result in Joliet in the last eight years though.
Daniel Suarez has finishes of 12th and 11th respectively himself while Kevin Harvick is the best bullet in their chamber. He has seven top five finishes since 2006 including four in the last six years. He was third in each of the last two Chicagoland races as well.
The SHR foursome was led by Harvick who was third in each of the two session on single lap speeds but second and first respectively in the 10 lap averages. Harvick, was also quickest on the 5, 10, 15 and 20 lap averages in final practice too. While he hasn’t won a race this season, he does have seven top five finishes at Chicagoland since 2006 including four in the last six. He was third in each of the last two years and starts second on Sunday.
Bowyer, was ninth and second respectively while Suarez (18th, 12th) and Almirola (14th, 25th) still have some work to do.
What about Team Penske?
Brad Keselowski has eight straight top 10 finishes including two wins. Joey Logano has five straight top 10 finishes and six in his last seven tries. He’s just never won. Ryan Blaney only has one top 10 in three tries.
Does Ford step up their game even further?
Now that we’re nearing the midway mark of the 2019 season, the playoff race is heating up. We’ve still only had just six drivers reach victory lane this year, meaning there’s 10 wildcard spots available at the moment. With only one superspeedway race left in the regular season, it’s likely we’re going to have a race among several drivers for some wide open playoff spots.
Currently, there’s six drivers within 36 points of the bubble. Two of them though, aren’t in.
Right now, Daniel Suarez is +31 in 13th while William Byron is +29 in 14th. Kyle Larson is just +18 while Ryan Newman holds a one point lead over Jimmie Johnson for the final spot. Erik Jones is just five points out while Paul Menard (-38) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-43) are hoping to make up ground.
With such a slim margin, stage points are crucial now. Johnson, has one more stage point than Newman and trails him by just one point in the standings. See why these are crucial?
That means strategy is going to be key as some drivers, like these ones in particular, may need to forego race wins and positioning for them and just get as many points as they can get.
Just look at how Sonoma went last weekend. William Byron went for stage points, not the win, and it worked. He may have only finished 19th but he scored the fifth most points for the race (36). That propelled him up in the playoff standings.
Kyle Larson only finished 10th himself in Sonoma but he too went for stage points instead of the race win. He scored the third most points (39) of the day.
Both drivers are on the playoff bubble and that strategy worked out for each. While we can’t predict how Sunday’s race will go, do the bubble drivers position themselves on pit strategy to go for stage points even if it means being on the wrong end of strategy for the race win in the end?
Why The Top Drivers In The Points Standings Will Be Strong
It should come to no surprise that the top drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit should be the ones shining for Sunday’s Camping World 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). After all, when 1.5-mile tracks are the bread-and-butter of the schedule, the cream typically rises to the top during these weeks.
Take last year’s race at the Chicagoland Speedway as a prime example. Three of the top four drivers that made the Championship 4 all finished in the top four in last year’s Camping World 400. The one that didn’t was the season champion in Joey Logano who finished eighth in last year’s race. In fact, the entire top 10 of the finishing order all made the playoffs.
So, mix that with the current crop in the top half of the Cup Series standings thus far in 2019 being so strong during their respective careers at Chicago and you’d see why these drivers could potentially be strong again this weekend.
Lets take a deeper look.
Joey Logano leads the standings as he enters Chicagoland with seven top seven finishes in his No. 22 Ford in his last nine starts on the year. Logano, also has five straight top 10 finishes and six in his last seven tries at Chicagoland.
Kyle Busch is second in the points and has four straight top five finishes on the year in his No. 18 Toyota. He’s also finished in the top 10 in all but one race in 2019. At Chicago, Busch won this race last year and has six top 10 finishes in his last seven tries on the 1.5-mile track.
Kevin Harvick is third in the points and has seven top five finishes since 2006 including four in the last six years. He was third in each of the last two Chicagoland races as well
Logano’s Team Penske teammate of Brad Keselowski has his No. 2 Ford fourth in the standings and has three top six finishes in his last five starts on the year. The Michigan native also has eight straight top 10 finishes including two wins at Chicagoland.
You can’t discredit Martin Truex Jr. either. He has two wins in the last three years at Chicagoland and a fourth place run last year. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has also won four times on the season since late April including last Sunday in Sonoma. A third JGR driver in Denny Hamlin is sixth in points and has five straight top seven finishes at Chicago including a win in his No. 11 Toyota.
Chase Elliott is seventh in the standings and has came away with a top five finish in all but two races since his win at Talladega in April. Elliott, has two top three finishes in his three Cup Series starts at Chicago.
That’s just the top seven. Alex Bowman is 10th in the standings and finished 10th in this race last year. He also has five top 10 finishes in his last seven starts of the season including three of which being runner-ups.
So, you can tell that the top 10 of the current points standings could honestly fill out the top 10 in Sunday’s race. Mix Team Penske and JGR having five drivers in the top six of the points standings and have won all but one race this season, you get why Chicago could be an easy one to pin point who will be strong or not.
Despite them all not having the best starting spots for Sunday, they should all find their ways to the front.
1. 4 Harvick – I have to go here for the winner. Harvick, hasn’t finished better than fourth all year but he’s been strong all weekend with being third in both practice sessions on Saturday on single lap speed, second and first respectively on the 10 lap average charts and starting second as well.
2. 1 Busch – I think he finishes runner-up for the second time in three races. Busch, starts fifth and has good long run speed in his No. 1 Chevrolet.
3. 48 Johnson – This could be his week to contend. Johnson, was in the top six on single lap runs in both practices on Saturday to go along with being in the top eight of the 10 lap average charts. He starts fourth too.
4. 18 Busch – Despite not having a ton of speed, I think he climbs up to another top five finish on Sunday. Busch, won this race last year and has scored a top 10 in six of his last seven starts of the season.
5. 22 Logano – I think he charges up to a top five too. Logano, has five straight top eight finishes at Chicagoland to go along with being quickest in final practice and fourth overall on the 10 lap average chart.