Skirts and Scuffs takes on The Chase: Week 1 Chicagoland

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, from left, Carl Edwards, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon pose with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series trophy in front of Buckingham Fountain as part of Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Media Day on Thursday in Chicago.
Credit: David Banks/Getty Images for NASCAR
Welcome to the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup. The ladies of Skirts and Scuffs will be bringing you comprehensive coverage from each of the 10 races that make up NASCAR's playoffs. This isn't the Chase we have grown accustomed to over the past several years. With a different points system, two wild card spots, and changes to the schedule, anything can happen. The next 10 weeks are sure to be full of excitement, drama, passion and more great racing as 12 drivers chase their dreams of being the 2011 Sprint Cup Champion. Join us for the ride! 

Kyle Busch - Seeded first in the Chase after four wins - By Amanda Ebersole
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 2, Wins: 1

Leading the Chase field, Kyle Busch is set to make history and defeat the five-time champion, Jimmie Johnson.

Headed into Chicagoland, Busch has one win, two top 5s and two top 10s. Since his win in 2008, Busch has finished a disappointing 33rd and 17th respectively.
Busch earned his fourth win of 2011 at MIS

Though his recent Cup finishes here have been a struggle, Busch knows his way to Victory Lane at Chicagoland. After winning the past two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races, Busch has also dominated the Nationwide Series races with his last three finishes including a win, second and another win. Busch will not be racing the Nationwide race this week, Joey Logano is entered in the No. 18 JGR car, but he will be behind the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports truck on Friday night.

Looking forward to getting a great start to the Chase while racing at Chicagoland, Busch knows he has work to do. "We've got to turn a corner here a little bit. Mile-and-a-half stuff, Chicago in particular wasn't great to us the past couple of years. I'm looking forward to Chicago. I like going there. Just running the Truck race and then we'll be ready with the Cup race. I think that we've got a great team and we've got a great leader with Dave Rogers (crew chief) and these guys are excited about it. They don't get too high and they don't get too low so we just make sure we keep doing our job and working as hard as we can just digging in and paying attention to details and I think we'll be all right."

Kevin Harvick - Seeded second with four wins - By Lisa Janine Cloud 
Top 5s: 5, Top 10s: 6, Wins: 2

Coming off his fourth win of the season and 18th of his career, Kevin Harvick heads into Chicagoland tied for the points lead with, and seeded second behind none other than his archrival, Kyle Busch.

Harvick's fourth win came at RIR
While Harvick has been successful overall at the mile-and-a-half oval, he finished 19th in 2009 and 34th in 2010. His two wins at Chicagoland came in the first two races at the speedway. In 2001, he won the slowest race at the track (121.200 mph) and in 2002 he won the fastest race at the track (136.832 mph) from deepest in the field (32nd place).

With an average finish of 11.2, Harvick has a total of six top-10 finishes including five top-fives and two wins, tying him with Tony Stewart for most wins. Harvick led 282 of the 2,656 laps he's run at the track.

Harvick announced last week that KHI's Nationwide Series operations would merge with RCR for 2012, and while he stated in Richmond that "the one thing I can tell you is there will be no trucks that run out of KHI," he stopped short of saying what his plans for the organization are. Was Harvick able to get his business matters squared away before the Chase? Will lingering details prove to be a distraction or will he carry the momentum from his win at Richmond on to Chicago and the rest of the Chase? Stay tuned!

Jeff Gordon - Seeded third after three wins - By Rebecca Kivak
Top 5s: 6, Top 10s: 7, Wins: 1

Seeded third in the points standings, Jeff Gordon enters Chicagoland Speedway in the best position he’s been in years to win that elusive fifth title. Gordon, the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, is coming off his 85th career win at Atlanta, making him the third most-winningest driver in Sprint Cup Series history. The win also marks his third of the season. This is the first year since 2007 where Gordon has scored multiple victories in a single season.

Gordon's 85th career win came at Atlanta
Since joining forces with crew chief Alan Gustafson, Gordon has been rejuvenated. The four-time champion has amassed 10 top-5 finishes and four additional top-10 finishes in 2011. In a surge of momentum, Gordon has finished in the top 3 the last three races: third at Bristol, first at Atlanta and third at Richmond.

Gordon looks to carry this momentum into Chicagoland, where in 10 starts, he claims one win (2006), six top-5s, seven top-10s and one pole. At the 1.5-mile track, Gordon leads all Chase drivers with an average finish of 8.6. He finished 3rd here last year and 2nd in 2009. If you want to bet on someone for Chicagoland, bet on Jeff Gordon.

Coming off his third-place effort at Richmond, Gordon said, “Well I think these last few weeks have spoke volumes about our race team and our effort for this championship that is coming up. We’ve had fast race cars; led a bunch of laps. We’ve put ourselves in position to win … that’s great momentum and we can’t wait for that Chase to start. Chicago is a great track for us.”

Matt Kenseth - Seeded fourth with two wins - By Holly Machuga
Kenseth took home the checkers at Dover
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 4, Wins: 0

Matt Kenseth has an average starting position of 20.1 and an average finish position of 11.4 at Chicagoland. Although he has finished second twice, he has yet to earn his first win. However, the odds are with him as Kenseth has led in six of his 10 starts at Chicago. Is it time for him to earn his third win of the season?

Carl Edwards - Seeded fifth after one win - By Lacy Keyser 
Edwards' single win of 2011 came in Vegas
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s, 2, Wins: 0

Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Ford Fusion, had an eventful night at Richmond. He led 112 laps but came short of the win.

Edwards goes into Chicagoland 5th in points. He has two top 5s, as well as two top 10s. Edwards has an average finish of 18.3 in six races. Edwards also has a driver rating of 89.4, 10th best. Sadly Edwards has no wins, but I feel he has the most momentum coming from that second-place finish. Edwards maybe a driver to keep a eye on come Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson - Seeded sixth with one win - By Lindi Bess
Top 5s: 5, Top 10s: 7, Wins: 0

The driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet, five-time Champion Jimmie Johnson, will be attempting to bring home his sixth championship trophy as well as all the bragging rights that come with it.

Johnson's sole win came at Talladega 
With one win, 11 top 5s and 17 top 10s, the No. 48 has an average finish of 10.6 in the 2011 series.

In his career races at Chicagoland, the No. 48 has five top 5s, seven top 10s and one pole.  Not having beaten this track, Jimmie will likely go in to make a statement as he works to get his first win this weekend in the Windy City.

Johnson said the following about his feelings this week as they begin the Chase in Chicago: “Really excited for it. I think the Chicago area and the race track is going to be a great host for the start of the Chase. I’ve been close to victory there a few times. We’ve always run well and led laps there. Really want to win there for the fact that it is in the Chase and also for Chad. We’ve been able to win a lot at my home track. I owe him a couple there and I need to get him one before long.”

Good luck to all drivers as they begin this last leg of the Sprint Cup championship!

Kurt Busch - Seeded seventh with one win – By Rosalie Thompson
Top 5s: 0, Top 10s: 5, Wins: 0

Busch's only win in 2011 came at Infineon
Last weekend Kurt Busch had an on-track incident with Jimmie Johnson and an off-track incident with media members. He will need to keep his emotions in check this week and concentrate on putting the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge at the front of the field.

So far in 2011 Busch has one win, seven top fives, 14 top 10s and three poles but he has never had a top 5 at Chicagoland. With an almost clean slate and 10 weeks to beat the other 11 Chase drivers, Busch can score some valuable points if he can concentrate on the 22 and not on the 48.

Ryan Newman - Seeded eighth with one win  – By Unique Hiram
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 5, Wins: 1

Ryan “The Rocket” Newman, driver of the No. 39 U.S. Army Chevrolet, is currently seeded in the eighth position for the start of the 2011 Sprint Cup Chase. Chicagoland Speedway, where Newman has captured one win previously, will play host to the initial race of the Chase. It was at the conclusion of the 2003 Tropicana 400 that Newman claimed victory at this 1.5-mile race track. He led for a total of 67 laps in his No. 12 Alltel Dodge driving for Roger Penske and crossed the finish line ahead of his current owner/teammate Tony “Smoke” Stewart. “Smoke” was driving his No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing at that time.

Newman visited victory lane at NHMS
"It's exciting to be in the Chase, we worked hard all year to accomplish this goal," said Newman, who has scored one win, eight top-fives and 13 top-10s in the first 26 races. "We were disappointed last year about not making the Chase (finished 13th in pre-Chase points) and during the offseason we evaluated where we went wrong and one area was the 1.5 to two-mile tracks. We've made a pretty good improvement at those tracks this year and five of the 10 Chase races will be at the mile-and-a-half tracks. What has me pumped is that we have an opportunity for our Soldiers to win a championship that they deserve."

Newman definitely has momentum going into Sunday’s race and his team will need to showcase consistency (e.g. flawless pit stops and car adjustments), if they want a real chance at winning it all. This team has been the stronger of the two cars currently competing at Stewart-Haas Racing; therefore, it is a good chance that they will be “army strong” in Chicago.

Tony Stewart - Seeded ninth - By Genevieve Cadorette
Stewart is winless in 2011
Top 5s: 7, Top 10s: 8, Wins: 2

Tony Stewart made the Chase after surviving a long and difficult season. So far, Stewart has not won a race but his season stats are three top 5s and 11 top 10s, which secures the ninth seed going into the Chase.

Stewart has success in Chicagoland with one pole, two wins, seven top 5s and eight top 10s.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Seeded 10th – By Melissa Wright
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 3, Wins: 1

Dale Earnhardt Jr. started the 2011 season off rather impressive considering the changes that have been made with his team. He has remained consistent with three top 5s and nine top 10s, which clinched him a spot in the Chase and he is now a contender for the Cup championship.

Earnhardt Jr. is winless in 2011
Last weekend after racing at Richmond, Dale was asked about his thoughts on being back in the Chase and this was his response: “Yeah, I'm proud to be in the Chase. I feel like I'm a good enough driver to be in the Chase, my team is good enough to be there. As a group, I think we're good enough to be in the top 10, and I can look back over the season and just easily think of several instances where we cost ourselves 10 or 15 points and made this situation difficult this weekend. Had we been more conscious and smarter at certain times we wouldn't have had to even worry about it this weekend. But we're a good team, and I'm proud to carry my sponsors and HMS in the Chase and represent them in the Chase, and hopefully we're going to work real hard, hopefully we do a good job.”

Heading into the “Windy City” or as some of us call Chi-town, Junior is no stranger to Victory Lane. In 2005 he started 25th and held off Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson for the win. Dale was piloting the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet when he scored his only win at Chicagoland. He has an average finish of 16th and holds two top 5s and three top 10s at the 1.5-mile tri-oval Speedway in Illinois.

Brad Keselowski - Seeded 11th (wild card spot after three wins) - By Kristin Weaver
Top 5s: 0, Top 10s: 0, Wins: 0

Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger, will be making his first attempt at bringing home a NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. If the No. 2 Dodge team were to accomplish this, then it would be the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship for Dodge since 1975, with Richard Petty behind the wheel. Keselowski won Penske Racing’s first NASCAR Nationwide Series Championship last year.

Keselowski conquered Bristol
Back in August you might recall that Brad Keselowski broke his left ankle after a violent accident while testing at Road Atlanta. The race following the accident, he brought home a win for the Miller Lite team at Pocono Raceway. He followed that up with a second place at Watkins Glen, a third place at Michigan International Speedway, and another win at Bristol Motor Speedway. He exited out of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dodge and focused 100 percent on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and will continue to do so for the remaining 10 races of 2011. Since Daytona in February, Keselowski has led 12 races for 268 laps. He has three wins (Kansas, Pocono, and Bristol), has six top-5 finishes, 10 top 10s, and one pole at Kansas this season.

Chicagoland Speedway is still new to Keselowski and the Dodge boys. They have two starts with an average finish of 25th. Could this be the weekend they turn it around? Someone is bound to knock Jimmie Johnson and the No 48 from their five-year Cup streak. Will it be Keselowski?

Denny Hamlin - Seeded 12th (wild card spot with one win) - By Katy Lindamood
Top 5s: 1, Top 10s: 2, Wins: 0

Hamlin scored big at Michigan
Last year's second place finisher has an uphill battle headed into Chaicagoland. With only one win this season, Hamlin hopes to put his demons to rest and prove that the previous year’s runner up isn't destined to fail the following season.

Hamlin's stats at Chicagoland aren’t all that promising - in five starts, he has an average finish of 16.8 - but don’t count him out. The pressure is on and Hamlin is is ready to bring the title back to the JGR shop. Of course he will have to fight his way from the rear of the contenders to make his dream a reality. It’s a good thing the Virginia native performs well in the face of adversity.
Skirts and Scuffs takes on The Chase: Week 1 Chicagoland Skirts and Scuffs takes on The Chase: Week 1 Chicagoland Reviewed by Admin on Friday, September 16, 2011 Rating: 5