Story By: NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Welcome back, Dale Jr. As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to a summertime date at Chicagoland Speedway, we also see the return of the NBC Sports Group to the broadcast schedule – and a new beginning for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After retiring from full-time racing following the 2017 season, the 15-time Most Popular Driver and two-time Daytona 500 champion officially takes his spot in the NBC Sports broadcast team for the Overton’s 400 on Sunday, July 1 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
He spent the off-season getting familiar with his new role in front of the camera – with a headset instead of a helmet – by taking part in several non-NASCAR events with NBC. Earnhardt did segments at the Super Bowl, Olympics and Stanley Cup – and, most recently, sat beside Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday night’s episode of The Tonight Show.
And Earnhardt is certainly qualified to talk about what it takes to win in July at Chicagoland Speedway – he won the 2005 race there.
HIGHER STAKES FOR ALL
For the past seven years, Chicagoland Speedway hosted the opening race in the Monster Energy Series Playoffs – meaning 16 drivers were looking for a while to advance to the next round in the postseason.
This year, the stakes have changed as the race moves to an early-summer date and a berth in the Playoffs is now on the line as only six drivers are virtually locked in.
There are a couple key veteran drivers in Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson who are still in search of that all-important first win of the season. Chicagoland is one of three tracks (also Kentucky and Watkins Glen) where Johnson has yet to win a Monster Energy Series race, but his lone NASCAR Xfinity Series win came at the track in Joliet. Keselowski, on the other hand, has twice visited Victory Lane there – and followed up his 2012 win with the championship.
And don’t count out Chase Elliott. The 22-year-old Hendrick Motorsports teammate of Johnson is still pursuing his first career Monster Energy Series win – but his two starts at Chicagoland have been stellar. He finished third in his first outing to the track and followed that up with a second-place finish last year. Also of note with Elliott – every lap he’s run at Chicagoland has been in the top-15 on the track.
NEW XFINITY WINNERS APLENTY IN ‘18
The NASCAR Xfinity Series has seen 12 different winners in the first 14 races this season; which is the most through the first 14 races since 1996 (also saw 12 winners). Even though the defending Chicagoland Speedway winner, Justin Allgaier, became the second driver with multiple wins this season with his victory at Iowa, the chances are once again pretty good for the fans to see a different winner this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.
The Illinois native, Allgaier, will be going for two-in-a-row at Chicago this weekend, a feat not yet accomplished in the 22 Xfinity Series races held at the famed 1.5-mile speedway. In total 14 different drivers have won at Chicago.
This season’s winners include Tyler Reddick (Daytona), Kevin Harvick (Atlanta), Kyle Larson (Las Vegas), Brad Keselowski (Phoenix and Charlotte), Joey Logano (California), Ryan Blaney (Texas), Ryan Preece (Bristol), Christopher Bell (Richmond), Spencer Gallagher (Talladega), Justin Allgaier (Dover and Iowa), Kyle Busch (Pocono) and Austin Dillon (Michigan).
Different winners aren’t the only things fans have had a chance to see this season, there has been great racing all around, check out these stats – the average number of leaders this season is 7.0; the most since 2013 (7.93) and the average number of lead changes this season is 11.14; the third-most in the last five years. Plus, on top of all that the finishes have been close – the average margin of victory this season is 0.498 second – the smallest since the inception of electronic scoring in the Xfinity Series in 1996.
SAUTER WANTS HIS FIFTH
GMS Racing’s Johnny Sauter has never finished a season with more than four wins before, but this season he hopes to put an end to that.
Sauter, has won four out of the first ten races this season, in dominating fashion. This weekend at Chicagoland Speedway he will look to add to his win total as he returns as the defending winner of this event from last season. In nine starts at Chicago, Sauter has posted one win (2017), five top fives, seven top 10s and an average finish of 8.0.
Sauter isn’t the only driver hungry for a win heading to Chicago this weekend. Justin Haley added his name to this season’s winners list last weekend at Gateway. If he could pull off a win this weekend he would become just the third driver with multiple wins this season joining the series standings leader Johnny Sauter (four wins) and Brett Moffit (two wins).