NASCAR: Chicago

July 06, 2010 7:04 AM
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But Kahne could be live at 20-1 odds

Jimmie Johnson of NASCARComing into this season, defending four-time NASCAR Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson (pictured) had five tracks that he had yet to win on. After 18 races through the 2010 campaign, the number has shrunk to three. He’s crossing off tracks on his "Things to do" list with almost every chance he gets. He took wins at Bristol and Sonoma this year for the first time ever and his only failing so far has been at Michigan where he finished sixth.

This week, Johnson has another chance at crossing a track off his list with Saturday night’s race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois, a place where he has the track’s all-time best average finish position of 8.1, but is amazingly still winless at. Then in four weeks, he gets a crack at the others on his list with back-to-back races at Watkins Glen and Michigan again.

He likely could have already had a win in the season finale at the other track where he’s winless, Homestead-Miami, but because of his situation in points and attempting to seal the season championship, Johnson has always taken a cautious approach for that race like no other.

Homestead-Miami has also been a tough track for Jeff Gordon who has the most tracks crossed off his career list of anyone. It remains Gordon’s only track that he has yet to win on which includes two others that are no longer on the schedule, but Gordon’s got a nine year head start on Johnson. For Johnson to be nearly hitting a career cycle on all the tracks in such a short time is truly a measure of how great he’s been over the last nine years.

Despite never winning in Chicago, don’t expect to find any juicy prices on Johnson. You’ll be lucky to find 4 to 1 around Las Vegas sports books to win the race.

Chicago’s layout is a 1.5-mile D-shaped oval similar to Atlanta, Las Vegas, Charlotte and Texas, but the banking is only 18 degrees in the turns which makes it considerably flatter than the others and produces a different type of racing that usually produces a different type of winner from those tracks which is maybe why Johnson hasn’t won there yet.

Despite the many differences between Chicago and the other 1.5-mile tracks, we can still use them as a barometer to get a read on who may do well along with looking at last year’s Chicago race that Mark Martin won.

Only two drivers have finished within the top-15 of all four 1.5-mile tracks this season, Kevin Harvick, and Kasey Kahne, and neither of them won a race with Harvick’s runner-up at Vegas being his best run, and Kahne’s fourth and fifth-place finishes at Atlanta and Texas respectively being his best.

Kurt Busch has had the most success of all despite getting wrecked in Las Vegas. He’s won in Atlanta and Charlotte and finished fourth at Texas. Martin has had some of his best runs of the season on these type of tracks with two top-fives and a sixth-place finish.

Harvick is the season points leader and got his second restrictor-plate victory of the season that accounts for his only wins of 2010, but he may be able to add to that total this week. Not only has he had consistent success on the 1.5-mile tracks this season, but he has a great history at Chicago as well. He won the first two races ever held at Chicago and his 8.7 career average finish on the track is second only to Johnson’s fantastic mark.

Last year, while mired in the midst of an awful stretch by the entire Childress racing team, Harvick had his worst run ever at Chicago with a 19th-place run. For the final third of the 2009 season, the Childress cars slowly got back to respectability to the point where they are now which is all of them fighting for a championship. Look for Harvick to have one of his better runs of the season and retake his throne as King of Chicago.

It’s amazing that after nine years of racing at a track that was built to the specifications of what Roush Racing used to like, that a Ford has never won a race at Chicago. The scoreboard at Chicago reads Chevrolet 7, Dodge and Toyota 1, but those three manufacturers could have a Ford crash the party this week. Matt Kenseth performed well at Las Vegas and Atlanta with top-five finishes, but the star of the week could be Kahne. He’s had his best combined runs of the year on 1.5-mile tracks, but his only downfall might be if he’s using the FR-9 engine this week – the same one that blew up during a great run at New Hampshire. The new engine has been great on restrictor plate tracks, but the RPM’s cranked on this type of track appears to be more than the new engine can handle. Chassis and engine specifications won’t be available until Wednesday, so if looking to bet Kahne at around 20 to 1 odds, wait until getting the information.