Anthony Ballantoni

Mid-Pack Attack

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Mid-Pack: GEICO 400

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Track history: For several years, NASCAR planned to build a track in the Chicago area. A preliminary plan was formed in late1995 between NASCAR’s Bill France, Jr. and Tony George, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  After several unsuccessful attempts to find a suitable location for the new venue, Dale Coyne, owner of the newly built (1998) Route 66 Raceway contacted France and George with a new idea. They formed Raceway Associates and planned a superspeedway adjacent to Coyne’s highly successful drag racing facility. Their intent was to build the Chicagoland Speedway, a 1.5-mile oval racetrack, to host NASCAR and IRL events. Construction began in August 1999 and the racetrack hosted its first Cup event in 2001.

The difference between this track and the other 1.5-mile D-shaped ovals at Las Vegas, Kansas, Texas and Charlotte, is that the backstretch is slightly curved rather than a straightaway. This gives the drivers a feeling of turning left the entire race.

Beginning with the 2011 season, the lone race at the Joliet track was moved from July to become the first race in the 10-event 'post-season' Chase to the Sprint Cup.

Track Quick Facts (courtesy NASCAR Media):
Last five winners:
Tony Stewart 9/19/11, David Reutimann 7/10/10, Mark Martin 7/11/09, Kyle Busch 7/12/08 and Tony Stewart 7/15/07.
First Cup start here (Active drivers): Johnny Sauter 7/13/03, David Stremme 7/10/05 and Josh Wise 9/19/11.
First Cup pole: No drivers.
First Cup win: No drivers.

July 15, 2001: Teammates Todd Bodine and Jimmy Spencer shared the front row in a pair of Travis Carter Kmart Fords for the start of the Tropicana 400. Bodine’s No. 66 qualified on the pole with a speed of 183.717 mph. He led six laps and finished 14th. Spencer finished fifth after leading 50 laps in the No. 26. Kevin Harvick, driver of the Richard Childress No. 29 Goodwrench Chevrolet, started sixth in the lineup, led 113 of the 267 lap event, and scored his second Cup career victory in only his 17th start.

September 18, 2011: Tony Stewart won the GEICO 400 from 26th place in the lineup. It was the No. 14 Chevrolet driver's first victory and 12th top-10 finish in 2011. It was his third victory and ninth top-10 finish in 11 races at Chicagoland Speedway. Drivers leading at least 10 laps in the 267 lap race: No. 56 Martin Truex Jr. 14 laps, finished 18th; No. 39 Ryan Newman 18 laps, finished eighth; winner Stewart led 35 laps; No. 48 Jimmie Johnson 39 laps, finished tenth; No. 99 Carl Edwards 39 laps, finished fourth; pole-sitter No. 17 Matt Kenseth 46 laps, finished 21st and No. 22 Kurt Busch led the most laps (64) and finished sixth.

Fantasy games won’t allow you to pick all track favorites so Mid-Pack Attack is here to help. A mid-packer may not win the race but has as good a shot at a top 15 finish as track favorites Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart.  There were 47 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Cup race. Here are our picks for Sunday's GEICO 400 in Joliet, Illinois.

Mid-Pack picks
Ryan Newman finds himself outside the top 15 in points heading into the Chase, is signed for another year at Stewart-Hass Racing so he has nothing to lose at Chicagoland. His 9.2 average starting position (including a pole in his first start in 2002) and his 15.9 average finish (including a win in 2003) for 10 Cup starts here are respectable stats. Over the last five Joliet races, four resulted in top 10’s and averaged out to a 10.8 finish. In this race last season, Newman started fourth, led 18 laps, never ran less than eighth and finished in eighth place. We think you could expect another top 15 or better from the No. 39 Chevrolet driver.

Mark Martin’s 8.5 qualifying average in 2012 is the best in NASCAR. He owns four poles, three top-five and seven top-10 finishes in just 17 races in 2012. In 11 Cup starts at Chicagoland, Martin owns a victory (2009) and five top-10 finishes. He’s led 239 laps. His Michael Waltrip Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer are in the Chase and he says he’ll help the pair in any way he can. But when the green flag drops he’s also going to do everything he can to race his way to victory lane. He may not accomplish that but look for the No. 55 Toyota driver to maintain his Chicagoland 12.5 average finish.

Juan Pablo Montoya’s finishes at the Joliet track of 15th, 18th, 10th, 16th, and 14th work out to a 14.6 average. He is also one of only two drivers (Boyer is the other) who have completed all 1,335 laps run in those five races. That’s the kind of driver were looking for to possibly cross the line in the top 15. Even though Montoya is sitting 21st in the points heading into the ‘playoffs’, we would consider putting the No. 42 Chevrolet driver in as a fourth or fifth driver at Chicagoland Speedway.

There’s no way to make Sam Hornish Jr.’s three Cup starts at Chicago (2008-2010) look good. They averaged a 33rd place finish. He made two starts here in the Nationwide Series (2010 and 2011) and finished fifth and eighth. Hornish had a lot of success running around this track without fenders. In seven starts here in the IZOD IndyCar Series from 2001 to 2007, he averaged a start of 4.0 (including two poles) and logged a stellar 2.7 average finish (including two wins). Based on how he stepped it up in his part-time ride in the No. 22 Dodge (four top 12’s in the last five races), we’re looking at Hornish to be near the front on Sunday afternoon.

Tony Ballantoni runs the NASCAR coverage at
Email :Anthony Ballantoni

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