July 10, 2009

For the second straight week the Sprint Cup Series drivers take to the track on a Saturday night, but that's where the similarities end. Last week's race at Daytona was wild and crazy, while this Saturday night's Lifelock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway is likely to be a more subdued event. That's not to say it won't have its share of excitement, but it's not restrictor plate racing -- and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

After last week's carnage, the battle for the final spots in the Chase went through the spin cycle. Only 184 points separate 10th-place Matt Kenseth from 16th-place Clint Bowyer with eight races before the Chase field is set. This weekend's race will be a good test for the drivers that hope to be sitting at the head table at the end of the season since 1.5-mile tracks dominate the 10-race Chase for the Championship. But before the title can be decided for the Sprint Cup or your league, we must first tackle the Windy City. So what drivers will raise you to the top of the scoreboard this week or blow away your chances at the top prize? Read on to find out this week's favorites, sleepers and longshot.

Brian Vickers- Thursday afternoon Vickers earned his third pole in the past five races, but he's still waiting to turn a win on pole day to a win on race day. At Chicago, Vickers has a solid history with no finish lower than 14th and two top 10s in the four races he's run there. Toyota horsepower dominated in qualifying, so look for Vickers to try to muscle his way into victory lane on Saturday night (or at least a top 10).

By the numbers: In the three races where he's started from the pole, Vickers has finishes of 15th, 9th and 16th.

Jimmie Johnson- With three straight top-10 finishes, Johnson is looking to blow by his teammate Jeff Gordon in the standings this weekend. Currently 14 points behind Gordon, Johnson heads to a track where he's yet to find victory lane but has come so very close in the past. In seven starts at Chicago, Johnson has finished in the top 10 six times; his only absence coming in 2007 when he crashed after leading 82 laps before his day ended early.

By the numbers: In seven starts, Johnson has an average finish of 8.1 (including five top-5 finishes) and an average start of 9.3. Which makes his third place starting position all the more attractive.

Kyle Busch- Unless you've been living under a rock this week, you've seen how Busch's last outing turned out. This weekend he enters the race as the defending champion and with the goal of putting Daytona behind him. His record at Chicagoland mimics that of Vickers, with no finish below 14th in four career starts. Add to that the desire for payback, and Busch should be a prime candidate for the top spot on your team.

By the numbers: Busch dominated last year's event, leading 165 laps en route to winning from the pole. He will start sixth on Saturday night.

Juan Pablo Montoya- Admit it, you didn't think Montoya would have a shot at being a championship contender in NASCAR; at least not in only his third season. But currently 11th in points, a spot in the Chase is a very likely possibility for the former open-wheel star. Ever since he claimed the pole at Talladega, Montoya has been on a hot streak. In those 10 races, he has six top-10 finishes and hasn't finished lower than 12th since Dover. It's time you wake up and use Montoya on a track other than a road course.

By the numbers: In two starts at Chicagoland, Montoya has mediocre finishes of 15th and 18th, but this isn't the Montoya of years past.

Kurt Busch- As his brother continues his job as NASCAR's resident bad boy, older brother Kurt is outdoing his brother where it counts -- on the track. Fourth in the standings, Kurt is solidly in the Chase and has done it with the consistency that has been lacking with this team in recent years. Busch hasn't posted a DNF all season and last week showed his determination to get back on top, when he came back from a pit road problem to finish fifth; his third top 10 in the last four races.

By the numbers: Chicagoland has been feast or famine for Busch, but with more good than bad. His 17.2 average finish is marred by three finishes of 28th or worse; but is improved by his five top 10 runs.

Kevin Harvick- If I had offered you a bet that at the halfway point of the year Harvick wouldn't be in the top 25 in the standings, you probably would have taken that bet in a minute and planned to laugh all the way to the bank. But the joke would have been on you, just like bad luck has followed Harvick this year like a constant companion. Just when you catch a glimpse of the No. 29 near the top 10, something always goes wrong. In fact it's gone so wrong, that Harvick hasn't finished in the top 10 since a fourth-place finish at Atlanta at the beginning of the year. Harvick's record at Chicagoland just begs you to put him on his team, but with how his season has gone it's not worth the risk.

By the numbers: Harvick was Mr. Chicagoland early on. He earned back-to-back wins in 2001 and 2002 and in the past three years hasn't finished lower than fourth.

Next up: The Sprint Cup Series takes to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400.

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