News & Media

Qualifying the Chasers: Chicagoland

September 17, 2011, Bill Kimm,

Stewart, Gordon among top drivers at Chicago, but will start outside top 20

Matt Kenseth (Qualified first) -- Matt Kenseth is one of 11 drivers to compete in all 10 races at Chicagoland and despite not having a victory, has one of the top average finishes among Chase drivers at the track. His 11.4 average finish is fifth among Chase drivers, thanks to consistent finishes. Kenseth has two seconds, two sevenths, two 12ths, a 13th and a 14th at Chicagoland. Kenseth has led laps in six of the 10 events, including twice for more than 100 and is one of just three drivers to lead 300 laps at the 1.5-mile speedway. This season, Kenseth has led more laps than anyone on 1.5-mile tracks at 339.

Kurt Busch (Qualified third) -- Busch is one of 11 drivers to compete in all 10 races at Chicagoland, but that doesn't mean experience has led to success. Busch has yet to win at Chicagoland, in fact, Busch hasn't even posted a top-five at the track. That's not to say he's horrible. In 10 starts Busch has five top-10s, but he also has five finishes of 17th or worse -- and those have come more recently. Busch's best finish in his past three starts at Chicago is 17th and he led just one lap in that stretch. Busch's 18.1 average finish is 10th of the 12th Chase drivers at Chicago.

Ryan Newman (Qualified fourth) -- Newman has been above-average at Chicagoland, but very inconsistent. Newman has a victory at Chicagoland, along with two top-fives and five top-10s in nine starts. After finishing fifth in his Chicago debut in 2003, Newman went to Victory Lane in 2004. But since then, Newman has yet to finish in the top five and has just three top-10s and four finishes of 22nd or worse. The good news though, those three top-10s have come in his past four starts. Newman hasn't led at lap at Chicagoland since 2005, but he is one of four drivers who average a starting position inside the top 10.

Carl Edwards (Qualified fifth) -- Edwards is known for strong runs on 1.5-mile tracks, but that hasn't translated at Chicagoland, where he has been more down than up. Edwards has a series-leading average finish of 5.83 on 1.5-mile tracks this season, but that's a far cry from his 18.3 average finish in six starts at Chicagoland -- 11th of the 12 Chase drivers. Just two top-fives and three finishes of 20th or worse in the Windy City, but one of those top-fives is a runner-up finish to David Reutimann last season.

Brad Keselowski (Qualified sixth) -- Keselowski has just two starts at Chicagoland and it's nothing to write home about. But, there is a silver lining. Keselowski has yet to finish on the lead lap in the Windy City, with finishes of 32nd and 18th. But, from the 2009 race to the 2010 event, he drastically improved his on-track position meaning he is learning the nuisances of the 1.5-mile speedway. His Nationwide experience may help, but he hasn't been great there either, with just one top-five in five starts.

Kyle Busch (Qualified ninth) -- Busch has dominated at Chicagoland in the Nationwide and Truck series, but that success hasn't transferred over to the Cup Series. In six starts, Busch has a victory and a third-place finish, but other than that, he's finished outside the top 10. After winning from the pole in '08, Busch's past two starts have been eventful. In '09, Busch started sixth but finished 33rd after engine problems. Last year, Busch qualified a disappointing 33rd and was able to drive it to a 17th-place finish.

Jimmie Johnson (Qualified 12th) -- Chicagoland is one of five tracks Johnson has yet to post a victory (Michigan, Watkins Glen, Kentucky and Homestead), but don't let that stat fool you, Johnson dominates in the Windy City. In nine starts, Johnson has finished seventh or better seven times, including two seconds, two thirds and a fourth. Last year was one of those finishes outside the top 10, when he finished 25th, one lap down.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Qualified 19th) -- Earnhardt Jr. is one of 11 drivers to compete in all 10 events at Chicagoland, but has had mixed results. Earnhardt won in 2005 and backed that up with a fifth in 2006, but those are his only top-five finishes at the track. Since 2007, Earnhardt has finished no better than 15th and in his 10 starts, he has seven finishes outside the top 10. One bright spot, Earnhardt has just one DNF in his career at Chicagoland and has finished off the lead lap just twice.

Jeff Gordon (Qualified 23nd) -- Gordon is one of 11 drivers to compete in all 10 races at Chicagoland and his stats are very impressive. Gordon's average finish at Chicagoland is 8.6, tops among active drivers. Gordon went to Victory Lane in 2006 after leading 20 laps. In his 10 starts, Gordon has six top-fives, seven top-10s and has finished in the top three four times, two of those coming in his past two starts.

Tony Stewart (Qualified 26th) -- Tony Stewart is one of 11 drivers to compete in all 10 races at Chicagoland and is without question the top Chase driver at the 1.5-mile track. Stewart and Harvick are the only drivers with multiple victories and Stewart leads all drivers in top-fives (seven), top-10s (eight) and laps led (396). Stewart has led laps in all but three Chicago starts, twice leading more than 100 laps in an event. Stewart is in the middle of a four-race top-10 streak at the track -- the longest active streak at Chicagoland. His average finish at Chicago is 9.5, third-best among active drivers.

Denny Hamlin (Qualified 27th) -- Chicagoland isn't Hamlin's best track, but he's been impressive lately. Hamlin has five starts at Chicagoland and started out average with a 14th and a 17th in 2006 and 2007, respectively. In 2008, Hamlin suffered his lone blemish with 40th-place effort after engine woes. But Hamlin has had an awakening since, with a fifth in '09 and an eighth in '10. The No. 11 has yet to lead at Chicagoland, but Hamlin has finished on the lead lap in all but one race.

Kevin Harvick (Qualified 30th) -- Harvick is one of 11 drivers to compete in all 10 races at Chicagoland and has cooled since dominating the 1.5-mile track early. The good news: Harvick won the first two races at Chicagoland and he and Stewart are the only two drivers with multiple wins at the track. The bad news: Since those two wins, Harvick has as many top-10s as he does finishes of 19th or worse. The good news: When Harvick is on, he's on with five top-fives and six top-10s. The bad news: Harvick's past two races have resulted in finishes of 19th and 34th.