Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – JOLIET, IL – There are only four race tracks on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule where seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has yet to hoist a trophy. And when it comes to his 0-fer streak at Chicagoland Speedway, Johnson has literally done everything but win.
Perhaps that will change for the veteran in this weekend’s Camping World 400 (June 30 at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Certainly Johnson’s resume at this 1.5-mile venue outside Chicago lacks only that Cup victory.
Johnson has led more laps (695), won more pole positions (two), earned the most runner-up finishes (three) and netted the most top-10s (11, tied with Kevin Harvick) in this week’s starting field. And, Johnson’s blink-of-an-eye .159-second loss to Kyle Busch in 2008 is part of the closest margin of victory in track history.
Statistically (since 2005) Johnson has turned the most laps in the top 15 (3,215), the most fastest laps run (413) and made the most quality passes (451). His 10.0 average starting position is best all-time among drivers with at least 10 starts. He is second in Driving Rating (110.2) and Average Running Position (8.12) only to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, who has only three starts compared to Johnson’s 17.
Johnson has seven top-five finishes among those 11 top-10s with a best of second place in 2004, 2008 and 2012. Johnson led 172 laps in his 2012 runner-up finish.
And Johnson does have a victory at Chicagoland. He won the very first Xfinity Series race at the track in 2001 – the only Xfinity Series win of his career.
A victory this weekend wouldn’t only be significant historically and check another track off his win list, it would be Johnson’s first win since the Fall Dover, Del. race two full seasons ago.
His No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro has looked pretty good this year. He has six top-10 finishes in the opening 16 races including a season best fifth place at Texas from the pole position – and Texas is a 1.5-mile track similar to Chicago.
“Our 1.5 track performances have really improved over the last few races and I am excited for this weekend,” Johnson said. “Chicago is a race that we have shown so much strength in the past and just never have been able to finish the job. It’s been so frustrating to have led so many laps and just been so close and not taken the checkers.”
XFINITY SERIES IS BACK AT IT
The NASCAR Xfinity Series returns to competition this Saturday with the Camping World 300 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and the big question is whether the series’ “Big 3” – Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer – can maintain their dominating form or if a first-time winner emerges this season.
Certainly the work of those three drivers – Reddick, Bell and Custer – has been one of the most productive efforts in recent memories. They account for 10 of the first 14 race victories and have led 1,619 of the 2,587 laps of competition (62.5 percent). Bell, a four-time winner, has led laps in every race of the season. That includes a stellar effort two weeks ago in Iowa, where Bell led 186 of the 250 laps to claim his fourth win. He started 11th and finished 12th in his only previous Xfinity Series start at Chicago last year.
Reddick, who holds a 52-point advantage over Bell atop the championship standings, has three wins and a series best 11 top-five finishes. The Richard Childress Racing driver started last year’s race from the outside pole position but finished 33rd due to an incident in his only start.
Custer has three victories and eight top-five finishes this season. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s most recent win was at Pocono three races ago and he finished runner-up to Bell at Iowa. Custer has been lights out at Chicago as well, making two starts on the 1.5-mile track posting an average finish of 5.0.
This week’s Camping World 300 will feature a couple unique competitive elements.
Father and son, Joe and John Hunter Nemechek will be competing in the same race for the first time since Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this season. John Hunter Nemechek is currently second in the Xfinity Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings.
And reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champ Joey Logano will be making his first Xfinity Series start of the season – an Xfinity race he has won twice (2009 and 2013).
GANDER TRUCKS IN THE WINDY CITY
The “Melon Man” Ross Chastain took a major step to assuring his position in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship Playoffs with a win at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway last weekend. He enters Friday night’s Camping World 225 (9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) needing to earn only 38 more points to break into the Top-20 and formalize his Playoff hopes.
And as motivated as Chastain has been racing, there are plenty of drivers ahead of him in the series driver standings equally as eager to win a race. Chastain won at Kansas before declaring his truck series championship eligibility, then again at Iowa, but his truck was determined to be illegal and he was given only last place points. He needed the win at Gateway to earn that truck series title opportunity.
While Chastain has won twice, championship leader Grant Enfinger is still looking for his first victory of 2019, although his series best 10 top-10 finishes in 11 races have helped him to an impressive 54-point advantage on the rest of the field. Second place Stewart Friesen through fifth place Brett Moffitt – the defending Chicagoland winner – are separated by only 15 points. Fifth place Moffitt (who was awarded the win when Chastain was disqualified) is the only driver currently among the top-five with a victory.