This Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 kicks off this year’s playoffs for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. We’ll be at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois for this week’s race, which is a 1.5-mile tri-oval race track–the most common type on the schedule. As far as similarity goes, Kansas and Kentucky both have similar banking to Chicagoland, and you could also throw in Las Vegas to the mix as well. Don’t expect many surprises this weekend: all of the drivers that have ran well on the intermediate tracks this season should be up front on Sunday.
I will post my official Yahoo! roster for Chicagoland on Twitter on Thursday evening before lockdown on Friday. Please follow me there: @FanRacingOnline
PLEASE NOTE: We’re back to a “normal” schedule this weekend, with a practice session and qualifying happening on Friday followed by two more practice sessions on Saturday. Be sure to check back to this post on Saturday evening for my final notes and my official starters for Saturday night’s Tales of the Turtles 400.
Yahoo! A Group Picks and Rankings for Chicagoland
Martin Truex, Jr. (5 starts remaining) – There’s not much that needs to be said about Martin Truex, Jr. this weekend. This #78 team is at their best on the 1.5-mile race tracks, and when you look at his record this year at the similar tracks to Chicagoland, it’s almost unbelievable; Truex dominated and won at Las Vegas, led the most laps and won at Kansas, and dominated and won at Kentucky, too. Oh, and last year’s winner here at Chicagoland? Martin Truex, Jr.
Denny Hamlin (9 starts remaining) – Somehow, some way, Denny Hamlin rallied for another top 5 result at Richmond last weekend and has now finished inside that mark in nine of the last twelve Cup Series races. As far as his record at Chicagoland, Hamlin has finished 6th or better here in the last three races and even went to victory lane in the 2015 race. And looking at the similar tracks this year, Denny wound up 6th at Las Vegas and came home 4th in the Kentucky race. Denny Hamlin isn’t going to go out and dominate Sunday’s Tales or Turtles 400 but he could possibly steal a victory with a late caution and good pit stop–although with last week’s controversy, NASCAR will probably only throw a caution late if they absolutely have too.
Hamlin’s teammates, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, are poised for good runs here on Sunday as well. Rowdy won from the pole here at Chicagoland back in 2008 and hasn’t finished worse than 9th in his last five starts here. Additionally, that #18 Toyota has won the pole in two of the last three Chicagoland races. Busch won the pole at Kentucky back in July, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in contention this weekend, either. As far as Matt Kenseth goes, this #20 team is hitting their stride at the right moment and could make a deep push in the playoffs this year–as long as they avoid bad luck…and ambulances. Kenseth won here at Chicagoland in 2013 and hasn’t finished worse than 10th in the last four races here.
Brad Keselowski is an interesting option this weekend, mainly because we yet again saw the #2 Ford fade at the end of last week’s race. Kez now has five straight finishes outside of the top 10 in Cup Series action, which is terrible momentum to have coming into the playoffs. With that being said, Keselowski has finished worse than 8th here at Chicagoland since the 2010 season, and he went to victory lane here both in 2014 and 2012. The good news is that this #2 team aren’t putting bad race cars on the track, they just seem to be making the wrong adjustments late in the race. It is possible that they were just testing for the playoffs, though, it’s not like we haven’t seen that before.
Speaking of testing…last weekend at Richmond, Jimmie Johnson posted his first single-digit finish since Dover back in June, which really shouldn’t be all that surprising to anyone considering it’s playoffs time now and that’s when this #48 team gets back in their groove. As far as Chicagoland goes, though, Jimmie Johnson has never won here but has the best average finish at this track (9.5) among drivers with more than three career starts here. Johnson also led the most laps in this race one year ago and has led at least 39 laps in six of the last eight Chicagoland events. If you want an off-sequence pick, JJ is your guy.
Pre-Lockdown A Group Rankings: (1) Martin Truex, Jr., (2) Kyle Busch, (3) Denny Hamlin, (4) Kevin Harvick, (5) Matt Kenseth, (6) Brad Keselowski, (7) Jimmie Johnson, (8) Joey Logano, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Post-Qualifying A Group Rankings: (1) Martin Truex, Jr., (2) Kyle Busch, (3) Kevin Harvick, (4) Denny Hamlin, (5) Brad Keselowski, (6) Matt Kenseth, (7) Jimmie Johnson, (8) Joey Logano, (9) Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Final Notes: The two best cars in the field are the #18 Toyota of Kyle Busch and the #78 Toyota of Martin Truex, Jr. It’s really a tossup on who is going to lead the most laps on Sunday, as both have cars fast enough to accomplish it. It’s just going to come down to how the race plays out, although I will note that the pole sitter here at Chicagoland hasn’t fared super well over the last four races. Another guy to keep an eye on is Kevin Harvick, who put down some really impressive practice times on Saturday. With that being said, the #4 Ford hasn’t been a true contender for the win since Atlanta, and I don’t see how that team would be able to turn the switch on just like that. Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski are also both solid top 5 picks.
My Starter: Martin Truex, Jr. over Denny Hamlin
Yahoo! B Group Picks and Rankings for Chicagoland
Ryan Blaney (2 starts remaining) – Last year, Ryan Blaney’s best finish during his rookie campaign in the Cup Series was 4th, and that happened twice: at Michigan and right here at Chicagoland. With that being said, the main factor in that finish here was a late caution and good restart, but still, a finish is a finish. This season, Blaney has posted three top 10 finishes thus far, and the good news is that one of them came at Kansas, which is pretty similar to Chicagoland. Additionally, the #21 Ford came home 7th at Las Vegas and 10th at Kentucky, so you can expect a solid effort out of Blaney here on Sunday as well. From a trust standpoint, it’s hard to have much when it comes to the #21 team, but overall Blaney is a safer pick at the intermediate tracks.
Chase Elliott (4 starts remaining) – This #24 team has been running right between 8th and 10th for the last month and a half, so that’s a pretty good sign heading into Chicagoland, as it was this race last year where Chase Elliott looked like he could legitimately win a race. He led 75 laps and finished 3rd here one year ago, and while you can’t guarantee a similar effort this time around, it wouldn’t be surprising. As far as similar tracks go, Chase wound up 3rd at Las Vegas this year and also finished 3rd at Kentucky. There’s no reason to bet against him this weekend.
Kyle Larson (2 starts remaining) – This #42 team kind of lucked into a win at Richmond last weekend, but a victory is a victory and that’s all that matters in Fantasy NASCAR. Additionally, we have to take notice of the speed that this team has had lately: Larson has led a combined 247 laps over the last three Cup Series races–Bristol, Darlington, and Richmond–and now has two wins in the last four. Kyle came home 18th here at Chicagoland last season but in his first two starts at this track he finished 3rd and 7th. Additionally, he came home 2nd, 6th, and 2nd at the most similar 1.5-mile tracks this season (Las Vegas, Kansas, and Kentucky). The only question you really have to ask yourself this weekend is whether or not Larson is best used here at Chicagoland–where he probably won’t dominate–or whether you should bite the bullet and save your remaining starts for races later on in the playoffs. As of Wednesday night, I have Larson on my Yahoo! roster for Chicagoland, but there’s a good chance he could get replaced and saved for later, especially considering how strong the B Group should be this weekend.
Ryan Newman (8 starts remaining) – At the end of last weekend’s race at Richmond, “what the hell” came out of my mouth a few times, and not just because of the late caution (by the way, you can read my thoughts on that by clicking here). Ryan Newman wound up 3rd last week and now has four straight finishes of 7th or better in Cup Series action. Yeah, what the hell? The #31 Chevrolet hasn’t exactly been that strong in terms of speed, but the team is getting the finishes right now, so you can’t knock them. Now the question is: can they continue this hot streak this weekend? Newman is a previous winner here (way back in 2003) and has four top 10 finishes in the last six races at this track.
The #41 team and Kurt Busch posted another great finish at Richmond last weekend and have now wound up 13th or better in each of the last six Cup Series races. Additionally, Kurt has finished 6th or better in four of the last five, and typically the rule for him when it comes to Fantasy NASCAR is to run him while he’s hot. As far as his record here at Chicagoland, Busch has finished 6th or 8th in seven of his sixteen career starts here and came home a career-best 3rd here in 2015. He should be top 10 good on Sunday.
It’s best to stick with the championship contenders in Fantasy NASCAR during the playoffs, and one guy that could be under-utilized now is Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. The fact that the #17 team was testing during the race at Richmond last weekend says that they’re very confident heading into the playoffs, and don’t forget that Ricky finished 8th here at Chicagoland in his first career Cup Series start at the track. Stenhouse finished 11th at Kansas this year and came home 14th at Kentucky. He should be good for at least a top 15 result this weekend as well.
Clint Bowyer is officially out of championship contention thanks, in part, to the ambulance incident at Richmond last weekend, and also lacks any momentum; over the last four Cup Series races, Clint hasn’t been able to finish better than 19th. The good news for Bowyer fans is that he’s been pretty solid on the 1.5-mile race tracks this year and has a pretty good record here at Chicagoland, with seven top 10 finishes in his eleven career starts at the track. With that being said, Bowyer will probably be one of the highest-owned drivers in Yahoo! this weekend, so strategy-wise it might be best to stay away.
Jamie McMurray has posted results of 11th and 16th in the last two Chicagoland races, which is right about where his typical finish has been in the Cup Series over the last two months as well. The good news for McMurray fans is that he’s been one of the most consistent finishers on the 1.5-mile tracks this year, and he wound up inside the top 10 at all three track similar to Chicagoland so far this year (Las Vegas, Kansas, and Kentucky).
Pre-Lockdown B Group Rankings: (1) Kyle Larson, (2) Chase Elliott, (3) Kurt Busch, (4) Ryan Blaney, (5) Jamie McMurray, (6) Ryan Newman, (7) Clint Bowyer, (8) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (9) Austin Dillon, (10) Kasey Kahne, (11) Trevor Bayne, (12) Paul Menard, (13) Danica Patrick, (14) Aric Almirola, (15) Chris Buescher, (16) A.J. Allmendinger
Post-Qualifying B Group Rankings: (1) Chase Elliott, (2) Kyle Larson, (3) Ryan Blaney, (4) Ryan Newman, (5) Jamie McMurray, (6) Kurt Busch, (7) Austin Dillon, (8) Clint Bowyer, (9) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., (10) Kasey Kahne, (11) Trevor Bayne, (12) Aric Almirola, (13) Danica Patrick, (14) Paul Menard, (15) Chris Buescher, (16) A.J. Allmendinger
Final Notes: Chase Elliott looks to have a really fast race car this weekend at Chicagoland, which is a good sign considering he led over 70 laps in this race one year ago. In both practice sessions here on Saturday the #24 Chevrolet ranked inside the top 5 when it came to ten-lap average, so don’t be surprised if Chase is near the front at the end. Kyle Larson is just as good but Chase gets the nod in the rankings simply because of the better practice speeds. Ryan Blaney is another solid pick this weekend, as he showed top 10 speed in both practices on Saturday, too. A couple of surprises, though, were the RCR teammates of Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon, who both looked faster this weekend than they have in quite a long time. They’ve been able to get the finishes here lately with less speed, so it’ll be interesting to see what they can do on Sunday with more speed. One car that was lacking in power was Kurt Busch, as the #41 team couldn’t figure out much on Friday and Saturday. There’s still 400 miles to race on Sunday, but heading into the Tales of the Turtles 400, Kurt isn’t close to a top 10 car.
My Starters: Chase Elliott and Ryan Newman over Ryan Blaney and Jamie McMurray
Yahoo! C Group Picks and Rankings for Chicagoland
Last year’s race at Chicagoland was when the 2016 rookies–Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney–really shined. The former led 75 laps in that race and ended up finishing 3rd while wound up 4th and led 8 laps. And there’s no reason that this year’s rookies can’t do the exact same thing here at Chicagoland this weekend. Erik Jones is running unbelievably well right now–six straight top 10s and four straight finishes of 6th or better–and he finished 6th at Kentucky back in July. Daniel Suarez hasn’t been quite as impressive lately but he did post a 7th-place finish at Kansas earlier this year. Jones is the clear better choice here but Suarez is more than capable of a top 10 finish here on Sunday afternoon. As far as Ty Dillon goes, one of his best finishes this season actually came at Kansas (14th) but he’ll probably be closer to 20th than 10th this weekend–as usual.
Pre-Lockdown C Group Rankings: (1) Erik Jones, (2) Daniel Suarez, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) Michael McDowell, (5) David Ragan, (6) Landon Cassill, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
Post-Qualifying C Group Rankings: (1) Erik Jones, (2) Daniel Suarez, (3) Ty Dillon, (4) Michael McDowell, (5) David Ragan, (6) Landon Cassill, (7) Matt DiBenedetto, the rest
Final Notes: Between Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez, the former has the better car but the latter has a better starting spot. Jones spun during qualifying and will probably have to start from the rear, but he’ll officially be credited with the 24th-place starting spot. Suarez will roll off the grid from 13th and I expect him to wind up inside the top 15 as well. Honestly, I’d be surprised if either Jones or Suarez finished inside the top 10 on Sunday, so I’ll probably start Daniel just to save my Erik starts.
My Starter: Daniel Suarez over Erik Jones