By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
JOLIET, Ill. — The stars and cars of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will take to the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday to do battle in the Overtons’ 400. The intermediate tracks that dominate the schedule sometimes seem one and the same, but the track 50 miles outside of Chicago has begun to take on a character all of its own as the racing surface ages and bumps develop aided by the harsh Midwest winters.
The 2017 MENCS Champion and defending Chicagoland race-winner Martin Truex thinks the aging surface is great and helps add to the racing product.
“This place has been bumpy for the last few years and quite a long time,” Truex said. “It seems like every year it gets worse. I think that’s the good thing. I enjoy this place because of that and seems like bumpy tracks put on really good racing. It kind of takes you out of your normal routine as far as the way you do things. You have to make compromises. Some guys are better in certain areas of the track and that makes more fun races. This place is unbelievable and I look forward to racing on it here this weekend.”
Truex rolls into the Windy City with momentum as he comes off a win last weekend at Sonoma Raceway. In Truex’s last three races at Chicagoland, he has led 148 of his career 176 laps led at the track and his two wins for the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team are the only top-fives he has in 12 starts at the 1.5-mile oval.
For the past seven seasons, Chicagoland has served as the opener to the Playoffs, but this year the race date was moved back to the summer, which is where it fell on the schedule from when the track opened in 2001 until 2011. In addition to the temperature difference between September and June/July, Goodyear brings a different tire compound for the 400-mile event.
“This year will be different. Different tires and that’s probably the biggest thing. The tires and when it’s 104 degrees outside. It will be different for sure.”
The bumpiness of Chicagoland does change how Truex practices and approaches the race.
“Definitely changes how you practice and how you drive. Changes how you set the car up and you definitely have to make more compromises when the tracks are bumpy with your setup and you can’t just run the car a 16th of an inch off the race track all the way around like you do at some places so it’s definitely tougher to figure out, but it’s a lot harder on the crew chiefs and engineers for sure because we complain about the bumps and they try to fix them and it hurts other parts of the track so a lot of compromise here compared to other places.