It’s a whole new ballgame now.
With the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field finally set, NASCAR’s season-ending 10-race playoff begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
The winner of Sunday afternoon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 will become the first driver to punch his ticket into the Round of 12, which commences with Chase Race No. 4 of 10.
So which Chase drivers have the best chance of beginning the Chase with a trip to Victory Lane?
Kevin Harvick is a two-time Chicagoland winner, but hasn’t triumphed at the 1.5-mile track since 2002. Brad Keselowski has captured two of the past four races at Chicagoland (2012 and 2014), so the Team Penske driver certainly has to be considered a favorite.
Ditto for last year’s Chicagoland winner, Denny Hamlin, and 2013 Chicagoland winner Matt Kenseth. But a closer look suggests that the two other past Chicagoland winners who are among this Chase field might be the ones to beat this weekend.
They are Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart.
Busch, who just one year ago kicked off his unlikely and unforgettable run to the 2015 Sprint Cup Series title, boasts a record at the 1.5-mile suburban Chicago venue that is nothing short of spectacular.
Between NASCAR’s three major divisions – the Sprint Cup Series, the XFINITY Series and the Camping World Truck Series – Busch has amassed a total of nine Chicagoland wins.
None, however, remotely compares to his lone Sprint Cup Series victory here in July 2008.
“I enjoy coming to Chicagoland Speedway,” Busch said. “It’s a cool racetrack and lends itself to good racing because the asphalt is a little bit older and you can run from the bottom of the racetrack all the way to the top of the racetrack right next to the wall. Drivers enjoy that, it gives us options, it enables us to be able to race more, pass more, and have more side by side action and stuff like that. So all in all Chicago’s been a good place for me over the years, and I enjoy going there.”