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Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Chicagoland preview: Stewart, Harvick, Gordon look good

By Mark Garrow
Jayski.com

Scoring leaders and league standings

Segment 2

Dodging the wrecks like few of us did at Daytona, skullheadjones869547 leads the point standings in Segment 2 of ESPN Stock Car Challenge with a total of 5,446 points and a very impressive average of 778 in the past seven races. Hanging right there in second, though, is luckychuck961, who's only 15 points behind, and, marieb34, just 19 down in third place. Sitting fourth 41 points behind is SheltonChad.

Overall

With a solid 749-point effort at Daytona, srider151 remains at No. 1 with a total of 13,132 points, an average of a little more than 729 points for the first 18 Sprint Cup races of the season. Now, some 90 points back is a new challenger, Webbys nightmare at 13,042. Also scoring more than 13,000 points to date are kwe wvu 12 at 13,018 and dtmoseley38 at 13,009. Riding high in fifth is phildees49 at 12,989.

Jayski Junkies

With the same miserable 560 points I scored at Daytona, g.kindle gave up the first position in my Jayski Junkies league. K. Estep is the new leader after scoring 751 at Daytona and has accumulated a total of 13,018 with g.kindle now falling to second, 86 points back. In third, b.keeley continues to hang tough, but now must make up 103 points.

With that sorry score of 560 from three of my five drivers crashing, I've fallen to 27th in my Jayski Junkies league. Meanwhile in my other league, Virginia Connection, I'm fourth with D.Horn, S.McCarthy and J. Harris still out in front of me.

Daytona race day chat preview

I had one of those prognostication days at Daytona when it would have been better if (a) I stayed in bed with the covers over my head, sucking a pacifier and wailing for "mommy"; (b) I threw the car numbers in a hat and then drew out my top picks; or (c) I renamed myself, going from the "The Guru" to "The Goober"!

Seven of the drivers I picked to finish in the top 10 crashed out of the race. Two of my top-5 picks did end up in the top 10, including winner Kevin Harvick, whom I ranked third going in. You'll have to forgive me, though, if I missed Mike Bliss and Scott Speed finishing ninth and 10th, or Steve Park and Kevin Conway coming home top-15. All I can say is what a whacked-out finishing order we had for the Coke Zero 400.

Note: Our race day chat from Chicagoland Speedway will go live at 4 p.m. Eastern on Saturday afternoon. You can also get updated by following my "Twitters" at GuruGarrow!

Chicagoland history

The last 1.5-mile track the Sprint Cup Series raced on before Chicagoland Speedway is Charlotte, but if you look back at the last few years, a good run in the Queen City doesn't necessarily translate into a solid outing in the Windy City. During the past four seasons, on average only three drivers who finished top-10 in the Coca-Cola 600 also went on to finish top-10 at Chicagoland.

Counting up the most points scored in the past two races at Chicagoland, Tony Stewart tops the list at 325, just three in front of Jimmie Johnson. Mark Martin, Brian Vickers and Jeff Gordon round out the top 5, each with more than 300 points. Nos. 6-10 on that list are Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger.

When you expand that out to the past four events in Illinois, at 157 points per race Jeff Gordon is No. 1 with a total of 628 points with Kevin Harvick second at 601. Tony Stewart (592) falls to third, followed by Kyle Busch (553) and Mark Martin (542). Jimmie Johnson leads off the next five, followed by Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle.

2010 Superspeedway points

In the 11 Sprint Cup races run on tracks a mile or longer this year, Kevin Harvick has scored the most points with four top-5 and eight top-10 finishes adding up to 1,615 points or an average of 148 points a race. Jimmie Johnson, with three wins, six top-5s and eight top-10s, is second at 1,594. Just two points behind him is Kurt Busch (1,592) and only nine in back of him is younger brother Kyle Busch (1,583). Denny Hamlin (1,530) ranks fifth just ahead of Matt Kenseth (1,517) and Jeff Gordon (1,489). At No. 8 is Jeff Burton (1,458), with Tony Stewart (1,439) and Mark Martin (1,383) rounding out the top 10.

Nos. 11-15 in points scored on intermediate superspeedways this year are Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and A.J. Allmendinger. Nos. 16-20 are Dale Earnhardt Jr., David Reutimann, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. Rounding out the top 25 are Paul Menard, Scott Speed, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jamie McMurray and Regan Smith.

Chicagoland pre-race top 30 rankings

NOTE: The rankings are updated during the race day chats

1. Tony Stewart
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Kyle Busch
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Kurt Busch
8. Jeff Burton
9. Juan Pablo Montoya
10. Clint Bowyer
11. Ryan Newman
12. Greg Biffle
13. Kasey Kahne
14. Martin Truex Jr.
15. Mark Martin
16. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
17. Matt Kenseth
18. David Reutimann
19. Joey Logano
20. Carl Edwards
21. Jamie McMurray
22. AJ Allmendinger
23. Reed Sorenson
24. Brad Keselowski
25. Marcos Ambrose
26. David Ragan
27. Paul Menard
28. Bill Elliott
29. Sam Hornish Jr.
30. Scott Speed

Preview

"A" DRIVERS

For the second week in a row, I'm going with Tony Stewart as my top pick among the "A" drivers. Throwing out the debacle at Daytona, Stewart had three top-5s and four top-10s in the previous four races as he continues his career trend of really heating up once the weather does. He's also been top-5 in seven of the past eight races at Chicagoland Speedway with two wins. If you drop the 32nd-place finish in 2006, Stewart's average finish since 2002 is 3.0 and if you add in the bad finish in 2006, his average finish is still a spiffy 6.6.

Ranked second in this group is Jimmie Johnson, who has two victories already this year on intermediate superspeedways at Fontana and Las Vegas. Plus, in the previous four races prior to getting wrecked at Daytona, he had a win, his worst finish was sixth and his average finish was 3.25. Johnson has never won at Chicagoland, yet has some great stats. He wrecked and finished 37th in 2007, but in the other seven outings on the 1.5-mile track, Johnson's worst finish is eighth with two runner-ups that give him a total of five top-5s. Even figuring in the poor finish three years ago, Johnson's average finish at Chicagoland is 8.1.

This is the week Denny Hamlin gets back on track. After back-to-back wins at Pocono and Michigan, it's been a rough three weeks for the driver of the FedEx Toyota with a best finish of 14th over that span. I think, however, he'll make a major comeback this week based on his wins at Texas and Darlington. That should set him up very well for Chicagoland, where he came home fifth a year ago.

His teammate Kyle Busch should also score a bunch of points Saturday night. Like Hamlin, the Las Vegas native has had a rough month with his 11th-place finish at Loudon his best finish in the past four outings, which came on the heels of a three-race run where he finished first, third and second. Busch suffered an engine failure last year at Chicagoland, finishing 33rd after starting sixth. In 2008, though, Busch led 165 of the 267 laps on the way to Victory Lane.

This should also be a big weekend for Jeff Gordon. He's on a roll right now with four straight top-5 runs and has had several strong outings on the intermediate tracks this year at Las Vegas (third), Darlington (fourth) and Charlotte (sixth). That also doesn't count the race he should have won at Texas after leading 124 laps. Gordon was the runner-up at Chicagoland last year and the winner there in 2006. In nine starts in the great state of Illinois, the DuPont Chevy driver's average finish is 9.6.

Another guy I expect to do well Saturday night is Kurt Busch. He's ranked third for most points scored on the intermediate superspeedways this year with wins on the 1.5-mile tracks at Atlanta and Charlotte. The only reason I don't rank Kurt higher is that the past two years at Chicagoland have not been pretty, but, then again, those two finishes don't mean much when you consider how well he's run on speedways this year. He's also been top-seven in five of the last six races this year with three top-5s and a win.

Among the potential dark horses in this group to jump up and maybe do better than expected are Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne.

"B" Drivers

You've got to put Kevin Harvick at the top again because he's coming off a big win at Daytona and the Shell Chevy driver is really rocking with three straight top-5 finishes. You talk about consistent -- in the 18 Sprint Cup races run so far this year, Harvick has 13 top-10 finishes and an average finish of 8.1. When it comes to Chicagoland Speedway, he struggled last year when RCR just wasn't competitive on the mile-and-a-half tracks, but prior to that had three consecutive top-four finishes, not to mention his two straight wins in 2001 and 2002.

Teammate Jeff Burton is ranked right behind him again. Burton is coming off another near miss last week at Daytona. He's ranked eighth in points scored on the intermediate speedways this year, and I also think his eighth-place run at Darlington will set him up nicely this weekend at Chicagoland, where he crashed and finished 37th in 2009. However, in 2006, he captured the pole and finished second after leading 60 laps.

A couple of other "B" drivers who might merit some consideration are Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Reed Sorenson. Junior has three top-10s and a worst finish of 11th in the past four races this year, which means an average finish over that span of 7.5. He also won at Chicagoland back in 2005 and followed that up with another top-5 the following year.

Sorenson is a little risky, but consider a couple of facts. First, in the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota, Brian Vickers finished sixth and seventh the past two years at Chicagoland. Secondly, driving for Chip Ganassi, Sorenson was a 17th-place finisher at Chicagoland back in 2006.