While several drivers have spent the week answering questions about NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins this weekend, they aren't the only ones who bear watching now. Chicago is a 1.5-mile track that drivers sometimes still seem to be trying to figure out. So who has done that the best, and is on track to excel this weekend?
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. is in solid position in the Chase -- and seems confident of his Hendrick Motorsports team's ability to challenge for the title. That begins at Chicago, a track where he has a victory. In 11 starts, he has four top-10 finishes, three of them top fives, and has led 121 laps for an average finish of 14.818.
Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team must immediately push the frustration and disappointment of narrowly missing the Chase aside. Wins would certainly aid that plan. Busch has one win at Chicago to his credit. In seven starts at the track, he has two top-five finishes. He has led 174 laps and has an average finish position of 14.714.
Juan Pablo Montoya
Montoya is looking to regain ground in this final segment of the season after a disappointing opening 26 races. Can he start that bid at Chicago? In five starts at the track, he has one top-10 finishes. And although he's only led one lap, he has an average finish of 14.6 in races there.
Martin is running a limited schedule this season, but like his two Chase teammates (Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.) he's run well in most of his outings. At Chicago, he has a win to his credit. In 11 starts at the track, he has five top-10 finishes, one of them a top five, and has led 239 laps. He brings an average finish of 12.455 into this race weekend.
Kenseth is looking for his second career Cup title -- and first in the Chase format. He's been among the points leaders all season. Now, he's nine points behind because the standings were reset based on wins. Kenseth has four top-10 finishes, two of them top fives, in 11 starts at Chicago. He also has a pole position. He has led 346 laps and has an average finishing position of 12.273 at the track.
Harvick is winless entering the Chase -- and intent on remedying that. Recently reunited with crew chief Gil Martin, which whom he finished third in the standings the past two seasons, Harvick seems to have already gained added confidence. He says he's just going to pay attention to trying to win in this segment of the season. Chicago is a good place to start. Harvick has two wins there. In 11 starts at the track, he has seven top-10 finishes, six of them top fives, with an average finish of 10.364. He has led 282 Chicago laps.
Bowyer is just six points off the Chase pace -- and has a history of strong starts to the Chase. Can he continue that trend? At Chicago, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver has five top-10 finishes, one of them a top five, in six starts. He has an average finish of 10.167 and has led two laps at the track.
Gordon is rejuvenated by a stunning run into the Chase. Can he now take advantage of his wild-card berth? The driver has finished no worse than third in the last three races, a level of performance he hopes to continue in the coming races. Chicago looks like a good place to start. In 11 starts at the track, Gordon has one win. He has seven top-10 finishes, six of them top fives, for an average finish of 10.0. He also has a pole position at the track and has led 134 laps there.
The five-time series champ enters the Chase intent on reclaiming the crown. He's three points off the leader's pace and is looking for a strong start to the 10-race battle for the championship. Chicago is one of the few tracks where he has yet to earn a win, but in 10 starts there he has eight top-10 finishes, five of them top fives. Johnson has an average finish of 10.0 at Chicago and has led 365 laps there.
A year after entering the Chase in a somewhat despondent frame of mind, Stewart surges into the title-determining format just three points behind leader Denny Hamlin. Will that make a difference for the defending champ? Perhaps having more of an early impact will be his stellar history at Chicago. In 11 starts at the track, he has three wins. He has nine top-10 finishes, eight of them top fives, with an average finish of 8.727. Stewart also has a pole position at the track and has led 431 laps.