JOLIET, Ill – The two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice sessions next weekend at the Daytona International Speedway aren’t going to mean a whole heck of a lot in terms of deciphering on who’s going to be strong or not for next Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400. But, this weekend, the two practices on the Chicagoland Speedway racing surface will actually be big in determining who’s going to be strong for Sunday’s Camping World 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
See, superspeedway tracks bunch up the field. You just need a good handling race car to hold it wide open all the way around the 2.5-mile track next week. But, for this week’s 1.5-mile track, you need to have speed, handling and a mix of other variables to be strong. So, either you’re fast, or you’re not.
That’s why the Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing camps are smiling on Saturday afternoon in Chicago. Both organizations showed to have the most pace in their cars over the course of both practice sessions on Saturday in Joliet.
Alex Bowman led the way in the first practice this morning with a speed of 175.942 mph in his No. 88 Chevrolet. Kurt Busch was second in his No. 1 Chevrolet with a top lap of 175.873 mph. Bowman’s two teammates of William Byron (175.793 mph) and Jimmie Johnson (175.690 mph) were fourth and fifth respectively giving HMS three of the top five speeds in session No. 1 and Chevrolet four of the top five overall.
The only non Chevy car in the top five of the first practice was Kevin Harvick. The SHR driver turned in the third quickest speed in his No. 4 Ford with a lap of 175.850 mph.
In final practice, the Fords flipped the scrips and put three cars in the top five and four in the top seven led by Joey Logano. The Team Penske driver set a lap of 174.452 mph in his No. 22 Ford in the final 50 minute session.
SHR’s Clint Bowyer (174.447 mph) and Harvick (174.379 mph) were second and third respectively.
Darrell Wallace Jr. (174.368 mph) and Ryan Newman (174.357 mph) rounded out the top five in an incident free day.
Overall, HMS had 1-4-5-21 in the first practice on single lap speeds but 1-6-8-13 on the 10 lap average chart. In final practice, they were 6-8-9-11 and 2-3-5-11 on single lap and 10 lap speeds respectively.
Bowman, appears to be their best pick as he was first and eighth on single lap runs and first and third on 10 lap run respectively. He finished 10th in this race last year too. He will start eighth on Sunday.
Johnson, has never won at Chicagoland before (0-for-17) but was fifth and sixth respectively on single lap speeds and eighth and second respectively on the 10 lap averages. He rolls off fourth.
Byron, was in the top 10 in both single laps runs and top 11 in the 10 lap averages while Elliott who has two top three finishes in three Chicagoland starts was fifth in final practice on the 10 lap average chart. The second year driver starts 11th while Elliott rolls off 13th.
The SHR foursome was led by Harvick who was third in each of the two session on single lap speeds but second and first respectively in the 10 lap averages. Harvick, was also quickest on the 5, 10, 15 and 20 lap averages in final practice too. While he hasn’t won a race this season, he does have seven top five finishes at Chicagoland since 2006 including four in the last six. He was third in each of the last two years and starts second on Sunday.
Bowyer, was ninth and second respectively while Suarez (18th, 12th) and Almirola (14th, 25th) still have some work to do.
Speaking of having some work to do, the Joe Gibbs Racing camp was surprisingly off. They enters having won four straight races in Chicagoland and five of the last six overall. Also, they’ve won 10 of the 16 races run in 2019 too.
Instead, they failed to get into the top 10 of single lap speeds.
Denny Hamlin was 10th and 13th respectively, defending race winner Kyle Busch was 16th and 14th respectively. Last weeks winner Martin Truex Jr. was only 23rd and 19th respectively while Erik Jones was 22nd and 17th repetitively. On the 10 lap averages, Hamlin was 16th and eighth, Busch was 20th and sixth, Jones was 15th in both sessions while Truex was 17th in final practice.
I don’t like where they sit right now. They’ll start 9th (Hamlin), 17th (Busch), 18th (Truex Jr.) and 21st (Jones) respectively.
Chip Ganassi Racing didn’t have the short run speed but do on long runs. Busch was second and 20th on single lap runs but fourth and 10th respectively on the 10 lap averages. Kyle Larson was 27th and 18th respectively on single lap runs but fifth and seventh on the 10 lap averages. Larson, has four top seven finishes in five Chicagoland tries too.