By David Morgan, Associate Editor
The countdown to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is on, with just 10 races remaining in the regular season to set the field of contenders that will fight for the championship later this fall.
Kicking off the summer stretch will be Chicagoland Speedway and Sunday’s running of the Camping World 400, which returns to its mid-summer roots for the second year in a row after several years as the Playoff opener.
The track, which joined the circuit in 2001, only hosts the Cup Series once each season, boasting banking of 18 degrees as well as a curved back straightaway that allows drivers to carry their momentum around the entirety of the track. Having not been repaved in its 19-year history, the track also allows for racing from the bottom groove all the way up to the top of the track, making for great racing for the lead at times.
This weekend also marks one of the handful of “enhanced weekends” on the 2018 calendar as all Cup Series activity will be compressed into a two-day show, with practice and qualifying on Saturday and the main event on Sunday. In addition to the enhanced weekend, NBC takes over the broadcast rights for the remainder of the season, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. joining Rick Allen, Jeff Burton, and Steve Letarte in the TV booth.
By the Numbers
What: Camping World 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 17 of 36
Where: Chicagoland Speedway – Joliet, Illinois (Opened: 2001)
When: Sunday, June 30
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 3:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.5-mile tri-oval
Banking: 18 degrees (turns); 11 degrees (front); 5 degrees (back)
Race Length: 267 laps, 400.5 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages – 80 laps, Final stage – 107 laps
2018 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started 16th – 59 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Joey Logano – 28.509 seconds – 189.414 mph – 9/13/2013
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Chicagoland Speedway:
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 111.4
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 110.2
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 107.8
- Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 101.9
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 101.1
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 101.1
- Martin Truex Jr. – No. 19 Toyota – 95.6
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 91.6
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 89.6
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 89.2
From the Driver’s Seat
“Chicago is really rough and probably the closest to Atlanta of the tracks we have raced at so far this year,” said William Byron. “I’m excited to see where we are now to where we were earlier in the year with this being a low-grip track. It’s always hot there, so we can count on that. The name of the game is always trying to stay hydrated for this type of race. With tire wear being a factor, we need to manage aggression level as well. With the way the car slides around there, you really have to manhandle the car. It’s more about managing your car and not putting yourself in a bad spot. I feel like it’s going to be a really interesting show there this weekend.”
Last Time at Chicago
So many times over the course of their careers, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson have battled it out for on-track supremacy and last year’s race at Chicagoland was yet another edition of “The Kyle and Kyle Show.”
Busch held the lead in the closing laps, but found himself slowed by lapped traffic ahead, allowing a hard-charging Larson to narrow the gap between the two, and setting up a showdown for the ages over the final three laps.
On the final lap, Larson made his move into Turn 1-2, pulling alongside Busch’s Toyota, but was unable to clear him. The two made contact and Busch wound up in the wall, allowing Larson to take over the lead down the backstretch.
As he caught back up to Larson, Busch repaid the favor with a tap to Larson’s rear bumper in Turn 3, sending Larson sliding sideways and himself into the outside wall. Despite making contact with the wall, Busch was able to keep his foot down and powered on to the finish and the win.
Meanwhile, Larson was able to gather his car back up and finished second, with Kevin Harvick in third.
“It was a lot more hectic than I wanted it to be,” Busch said of the run to the finish. “Those lapped cars just got in our way and slowed us down so much that we just had no momentum. Finally I got through a couple of them. Larson just threw a dart there in Turn 1 and 2 and tried to pull a slide job. I don’t think he was close enough. He didn’t get enough clear on me to be able to slide. And when he got to me, he throttled up and drove us in the wall.
“And going down the backstretch, I lost all of my momentum. I tried to side-draft him as much as I could to keep him alongside of me. He cleared me and I gave him what he gave me back into Turn 3 and 4. And I was able to come back and get ahead.
“Adam Stevens did a great job today and turned this into something we could go race with at the end. Can’t thank Interstate Batteries enough. NOS Energy Drink, Toyota, Cessna, Rheem, Stanley, Black Cover and everyone. They work so hard. My pit crew did a great job as well.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, June 29
- MENCS Practice (11:05 am to 11:55 am – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Final Practice (2:00 pm to 2:50 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Qualifying (6:35 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Sunday, June 30
- MENCS Camping World 400 at Chicagoland (3:00 pm – 267 laps, 400.5 miles – NBC Sports Network)