Joliet, IL – Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, mile oval. Start time: 2:00 p.m. (et). Laps: 267. Miles: 400.5. 2010 Winner: David Reutimann. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.
For the first time, Chicagoland Speedway will host the opening round in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. New Hampshire began the Chase each year since NASCAR began its playoff format in 2004. Chicagoland had been scheduled in July each season from 2001-10.
Busch earned the top seed based on his four wins for the year so far. He also concluded the regular season as the points leader.
"Right now, we just want to keep going with how we've been doing all year, keep the consistency going, hopefully run strong at these first few Chase races to get a good foundation built up and see who the players are going to be, then race a little harder when we get down to the final four or five," he said.
Busch won at Chicagoland in 2008 but has finished 17th and 33rd in the last two races here.
Kevin Harvick's win in the regular-season-finale last Saturday at Richmond gave him a boost heading into the Chase. Harvick's fourth win of the season earned him the second seed.
"It definitely helps," he said. "We had a little bit of a rough summer, and we got a little bit off of our game. I think a lot of that came from winning so many races early. We were able to try so many things and a lot of them, well most all of them, didn't work. We went back to what we know over the last couple of weeks, and we've had top-five cars and to get the win at Richmond gives us a lot of momentum going into the next 10 weeks."
Harvick and Tony Stewart, who's also in the Chase, are the only drivers with multiple Sprint Cup wins at Chicagoland. Harvick won the first two races here from 2001-02. Stewart's victories at this track came in '04 and '07. He starts the Chase in the ninth spot.
Sixth-seed Jimmie Johnson begins his quest for a record-extending sixth straight series championship. Chicagoland is one of five tracks on the current Cup schedule where Johnson has yet to win. Homestead, Kentucky, Michigan and Watkins Glen are the others.
Johnson has won at his home track in California a record five times, but he would love nothing more than to give his crew chief, Chad Knaus, a win in his home state. Knaus is a Rockford, IL native.
"I think the Chicago area and the racetrack are going to be a great host for the start of the Chase," Johnson said. "I've been close to victory there a few times. We've always run well and led laps there. I 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 [Chicagoland], and I need to get him one before long."
Johnson has scored seven top-10 finishes in nine starts at Chicagoland. He finished 25th here last season. Johnson's first and only Nationwide Series win so far came in the inaugural race at Chicagoland a decade ago. He drove for Herzog Motorsports at the time.
His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., is in the Chase for the first time in three years, starting from the tenth spot. Earnhardt Jr. had a strong start to the season but has faltered somewhat in the past few months, as he barely made the playoffs.
"We had a pretty good run at it for the first 15 races, and for whatever reason, we sort of fell off and forgot some things or over-engineered something," Earnhardt Jr. said. "But we need to look hard at what we're doing, what we've been doing, sort of a pattern, find something within what we're trying to maybe harness or hampering our ability to drive the cars as well as I want to drive them."
Earnhardt Jr.'s winless streak in the series now stands at 119 races. He won at Chicagoland in 2005.
David Reutimann, a non-Chase driver, won this race last year. Reutimann grabbed the lead for good following a late-race round of green-flag pit stops. He then held off Carl Edwards during the final laps for his second career win in the series. His first victory came in May 2009 at Charlotte, a race cut short due to rain.
Forty-eight teams are on the preliminary entry list for the GEICO 400.