By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
After spending the past seven years as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener, Chicagoland returns to its mid-summer roots this weekend as they get set to host Sunday’s Overton’s 400.
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 18-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: Overton’s 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 17 of 36
Where: Chicagoland Speedway – Joliet, Illinois (Opened: 2001)
When: Sunday, July 1
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 2:30 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
2017 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota (Started third – 77 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 – 125.6
- Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 113.0
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 107.3
- Matt Kenseth – No. 6 Ford – 101.8
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 100.4
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 98.9
- Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 97.1
- Martin Truex Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 94.5
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 91.0
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 89.7
From the Driver’s Seat
“Chicagoland Speedway is a little different as far as the 1.5-mile tracks go,” Chris Buescher said. “There are definitely some bumps around that place, it’s one of the rougher tracks. You compare it to a track like Michigan (International Speedway) and how harsh their winters are and how well the track ages. Chicagoland hasn’t aged that same way through their harsh winters. It has aged the right way to make the track fun and give us some character. The aging in the track makes it where you have to search around for some smoother lines for more grip.
“With the shape of the track and the banking, you know you’re constantly turning there so it’s a little different from the other 1.5-mile tracks. I enjoy the kind of tracks where we are able to move around a bit and are not subject to one line or groove, and the curveball of the enhanced race weekend and impound qualifying should make it an interesting weekend.”
Last Time at Chicago
Martin Truex, Jr. entered the playoff opener at Chicago with four wins in his pocket, the regular season championship, and a boatload of playoff points at his disposal. Things couldn’t possibly get any better for the driver of the No. 78 Toyota, right?
Well, it did.
For the second year in a row, Truex claimed the top spot when the checkered flag flew in the Windy City, punching his ticket to the Round of 12 and giving him more playoff points to use down the road. Despite a margin of victory of more than seven seconds, it wasn’t exactly a cake walk for the New Jersey native.
A pit road speeding penalty on lap 39 put Truex behind the eight-ball early, but with a fast car underneath him, he was able to rebound up to 10th place by the end of the first stage and third by the end of the second. The final stage was all Truex, as he led twice for 77 laps, including the final 55 laps to score his 12th career Cup Series win and fifth of the 2017 campaign.
“I’m just having fun,” said Truex. “I’m proud of our pit crew for doing what they did and everyone on this team. It’s important to come here and not let the pressure get to you and I think we did a good job of that. Every time you go to victory lane, it’s special. There’s just so many people to thank. I’m kind of speechless, but Barney (Visser, team owner), and everyone at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) in Costa Mesa building great engines and TRD Salisbury – Bass Pro, Tracker Boats – just everyone, thank you so much. It’s a dream come true and we’re having the time of our lives.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Saturday, June 30
- MENCS Practice (11:30 am to 12:20 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Final Practice (2:00 pm to 2:50 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- MENCS Qualifying (7:05 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Sunday, July 1
- MENCS Overton’s 400 at Chicago (2:30 pm – 267 laps, 400.5 miles – NBC Sports Network)