NASCAR racing in Chicago? It’s not exactly the first thing you think of when discussing the Windy City, but Chicagoland Speedway will be sold out for the third consecutive year this Sunday.
The "Monsters of the Midway" has yet another meaning this week with over 700 muscle bound monster horses under the hood of a Winston Cup stock car ripping through the suburbs of one of America’s greatest cities. The growth of today’s NASCAR couldn’t have happened without Chicago; it was a missing piece of the puzzle.
The wave of popularity hasn’t caught on throughout the city like it has in most of the other new NASCAR cities, but Chicago is so huge with it’s surrounding areas that it only takes a small percentage of interested fans to make the venue a success. Perhaps when "Old Style" beer sponsors a car, another portion of the city may get on board.
Kevin Harvick (11-1) will be attempting to win for the third consecutive year. Last year, Harvick spun out with about 70 laps remaining and got a lucky break when the caution flag came out in holding off Jeff Gordon on old tires. Despite his win in 2001, Harvick’s odds were still in the 30-1 variety. The result taught many players a valuable wagering lesson, mainly never keep the reigning race winner of a track out of the odds to win wagering equation.
What may give Harvick an advantage over the other teams this year is the test session he and Pepsi 400 winner Greg Biffle (60-1) were part of last month.
"I think the biggest thing is that when you have an opportunity to come to a race track and win three races in a row, you want to make sure you make the right changes to the car," said Harvick during that test session. "We’ve changed bodies and usually when you have a newer race track such as (Chicagoland Speedway), things can change. So, we wanted to come back to make sure all the stuff we’ve had in the past is somewhat close, and it is."
Harvick may be dialed in, but Kurt Busch (8-1) is the favorite. Busch has been consistently good in super-speedway races, placing sixth and eighth in the two Chicago races. He has also been stellar on similar tracks such as California and Michigan. Harvick doesn’t really do anything at the other similar tracks, yet dominates at Chicago, which doesn’t quite make sense.
Here is a look at some of the other top cookie cutter oval drivers that look to be good candidates to win this week at Chicagoland:
Ryan Newman (12-1): Loves these types of tracks because they give him plenty of room and allow him to run full throttle. Will likely qualify on the pole and from there it’s up to his new Dodge whether or not he can stay there. In most cases this year, the car has given out. Does have two wins this year, including Dover.
Matt Kenseth (11-1): Won at Las Vegas this year and Michigan last season. Part of the Roush gang that always does well on these tracks. Having a dream season, but doesn’t seem the type to sit on his points.
Bobby Labonte (11-1): Has a NASCAR best 10 Top 5 finishes this season. The year is halfway over and he’s only 255 points behind Kenseth. Look for another great run.
Gordon (9-1) is good anywhere. At this point on the season, many believe Gordon is the one who will walk away champ in 2003. Gordon has won multiple times at every cookie cutter track except Chicagoland.
Black flag NBC/TNT
The Time-Warner duo of NBC/TNT has set NASCAR coverage back 10 years. Television helped spur NASCAR momentum across the nation and it’ll be TV that hurts the sport - specifically these networks.
Last Friday and Saturday night NASCAR had their top two series on display for a prime time national audience to watch. Between the excessive commercials, bad timing, poor play by play, and essentially doing everything opposite of FOX, it was an overall poor viewing experience.
It’s likely we spent more time watching commercials than green flag racing. I thought I had braced myself and didn’t want to be too harsh, but the two nights of coverage may make me view future races live on my computer with "Track Pass" until next season when FOX returns.