The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series moves to the NBC Sports portion of the schedule as they’ll take over for Fox Sports this weekend at the Chicagoland Speedway and air the remaining 19 races of the season.
Sunday’s Camping World 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) has a lot to live up to. Last year’s race was phenomenal. It was a great race all the way through including a memorable finish.
What will this year’s storylines be?
Thriller In 2018, Will We See Another On Sunday?
With a new package, what will Sunday’s race look like? Last year’s race had extreme temperatures as these guys raced in 100 degree weather. That made for a slick race track which helped in multiple racing grooves.
Mix that with the big names all coming from mid pack on back, and you got a thriller from start to finish. Race winner Kyle Busch started 16th. Second place finisher Kyle Larson came from 18th. Third place Kevin Harvick started 11th. Fourth place Martin Truex Jr. started 36th.
They all put on a show including the incredible battle of Busch vs. Larson in the closing laps. Will we see another phenomenal show on Sunday?
Toyota’s Have Shown Chicagoland Strength
It should come to no surprise that the Toyota’s are the favorites once again. Toyota drivers have won an astounding 11 of 16 races run this season. At Chicagoland, Toyota drivers have also won in each of the past four years and five of the last six too.
Do they remain strong this weekend?
Busch, has six top 10 finishes in his last seven tries. Martin Truex Jr. has two wins in the last three years and a fourth place run last year. He also enters coming off of a win in Sonoma as well. Denny Hamlin has five straight top seven finishes including a win in his No. 11 Toyota. Erik Jones finished sixth in this race last year.
Chevy Has Struggled As Of Late
Chevrolet has just one victory this season. They only had four all of last year too. Combine that with just one victory at Chicagoland since 2010, this doesn’t look like their weekend to shine. The last two times Chevy has won, Tony Stewart was the driver to lead them to victory lane. He’s long retired now.
Plus, the top driver in the standings right now is seventh overall. Can they compete with the Toyota’s this weekend?
Chip Ganassi Racing could be somewhat strong. Kyle Larson has four top seven finishes, three of which in the top five, in five starts. Kurt Busch though hasn’t finished in the top 10 in each of his last three tries.
Chase Elliott has two top three finishes in his three Cup Series starts at Chicago but was 19th last year. Jimmie Johnson hasn’t scored a Chicagoland top five since 2013 but has been in the top 15 in each of the last eight tries.
Alex Bowman was 10th last year while William Byron was 20th.
Ford Has Just 1 Win In 18 Chicagoland Tries Too
Ford was the last non Toyota team to win at Chicago, but that victory by Brad Keselowski in 2014 is their lone Chicagoland win in 18 tries too. So, you have Toyota who’s been dominant on the season overall as well as at the 1.5-mile track too, going against two struggling manufacturers.
Stewart-Haas Racing could be ones to beat as they were quick last year. They’ve just been shutout of victory lane this season though. Aric Almirola dominated the race last year but had pit road problems towards the end which left him 25th. His best finish in seven tries is 10th.
Clint Bowyer had a terrible day on pit road but rebounded to finish fifth. That was his lone top five result in Joliet in the last eight years though.
Daniel Suarez has finishes of 12th and 11th respectively himself while Kevin Harvick is the best bullet in their chamber. He has seven top five finishes since 2006 including four in the last six years. He was third in each of the last two Chicagoland races as well.
What about Team Penske?
Brad Keselowski has eight straight top 10 finishes including two wins. Joey Logano has five straight top 10 finishes and six in his last seven tries. He’s just never won. Ryan Blaney only has one top 10 in three tries.
Does Ford step up their game even further? They likely are the top manufacturer to top the Gibbs bunch on Sunday.
Now that we’re nearing the midway mark of the 2019 season, the playoff race is heating up. We’ve still only had just six drivers reach victory lane this year, meaning there’s 10 wildcard spots available at the moment. With only one superspeedway race left in the regular season, it’s likely we’re going to have a race among several drivers for some wide open playoff spots.
Currently, there’s six drivers within 36 points of the bubble. Two of them though, aren’t in.
Right now, Daniel Suarez is +31 in 13th while William Byron is +29 in 14th. Kyle Larson is just +18 while Ryan Newman holds a one point lead over Jimmie Johnson for the final spot. Erik Jones is just five points out while Paul Menard (-38) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-43) are hoping to make up ground.
With such a slim margin, stage points are crucial now. Johnson, has one more stage point than Newman and trails him by just one point in the standings. See why these are crucial?
That means strategy is going to be key as some drivers, like these ones in particular, may need to forego race wins and positioning for them and just get as many points as they can get.
Just look at how Sonoma went last weekend. William Byron went for stage points, not the win, and it worked. He may have only finished 19th but he scored the fifth most points for the race (36). That propelled him up in the playoff standings.
Kyle Larson only finished 10th himself in Sonoma but he too went for stage points instead of the race win. He scored the third most points (39) of the day.
Both drivers are on the playoff bubble and that strategy worked out for each. While we can’t predict how Sunday’s race will go, do the bubble drivers position themselves on pit strategy to go for stage points even if it means being on the wrong end of strategy for the race win in the end?