Chicagoland Weekend Preview

Kyle Busch (Getty Images)

Kyle Busch (Getty Images)

Kyle Busch embarks on second leg of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title defense

Kyle Busch finally realized his massive potential last season, wheeling to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship a mere nine months after breaking his right leg and fracturing his left foot at Daytona International Speedway.

Busch will attempt to further etch his name into NASCAR’s record books when he takes the track for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup opener – Sunday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). A championship repeat would make him the 15th multi-title winner in the sport’s history.

“I kind of feel about the same (as I did entering the Chase last year), actually,” said Busch, who is tied for the series lead with four wins this season. “I feel like we kind of are right even with where we were last year – kind of doing the same things – but there are other guys who are better than us, so we’re just going to have to figure out how to out-race them and out-finish them when we need to.”

In 11 starts at Chicagoland, Busch claims one win, four top-five and six top-10 finishes. He boasts the second-best average running position (9.2) and driver rating (106.1) at the 1.5-mile track as well.

“At Chicago, we ran really well there in ’08 and, unfortunately, ’09, ’10 and ’11 we kind of a struggled,” he said. “We ran well there the last several years. We had a really solid top-five run going the last two years. In 2014, we almost pulled off the win and, last year, things just didn’t pan out for us on a late restart.”

Busch displayed confidence when asked about the Chase’s Round of 16, consisting of races at Chicagoland, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway. He enters the Round of 16 with 12 bonus points – one for each regular season win.

“We’ve been running really solidly at New Hampshire the last few years,” Busch said. “We did last year in the fall [New Hampshire] race – (though) we did have a tire failure and we blew a tire – but Chicago has been good for us. It’s a decent place to run top-10, for sure. And then, Dover, of course, is a really good place for us. I like it.”

Sadler looking to pad bonus-point total at Chicagoland

With two wins this season, Elliott Sadler is already locked into the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase with six bonus points for the Round of 12 (three for each victory).

Elliott Sadler (Getty Images)

Elliott Sadler (Getty Images)

The No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet driver has come close to winning a national series championship in the past, finishing runner-up in the final XFINITY Series standings in both 2011 and 2012. Sadler begins his run at his first title next week at New Hampshire, but Saturday’s Drive for Safety 300 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC) could be just as important because five of the 10 tracks in the Chase are 1.5 miles long.

“We have a lot of mile-and-a-half tracks coming up in the Chase, so this will be a good opportunity to try some things to make our intermediate track program even better,” Sadler said. “Kevin and the guys are geared up for the Chase, so this will be a fun weekend for us to just go out and race.”

Sadler didn’t mention that if he visits Victory Lane at Chicagoland, he would match Erik Jones for the top spot on the Chase Grid at 2,012. Technically, Jones would own the No. 1 seed because of the tie breaker (second-place finishes).

Win or else for Custer

Two turns could be the difference between Cole Custer winning a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship and missing its playoffs entirely.

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 20 2014:  Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 20, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

LOUDON, NH – SEPTEMBER 20 2014: Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 20, 2014 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Custer held the lead with only two turns left in the last series race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park before John Hunter Nemechek edged him for the victory in a wild, sheet-metal-bending finish. A win for Custer would’ve earned him a berth in the eight-driver NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase.

Luckily for the No. 00 Chevrolet driver, he has one more chance to win his way into the Chase – Friday’s American Ethanol E15 225 at Chicagoland Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1). Custer has never raced at Chicagoland Speedway and only has five series starts at 1.5-mile tracks with an average finish of 13.0. His top  finish at a 1.5-mile track was seventh at Kansas Speedway in May.

“We have had really fast Haas Automation Chevrolets this season, and we need another one this weekend to make the Chase,” Custer said. “It’s win or go home, Chase-wise, so we’ve got to focus on that. The last race is over and we can’t change it, so we’ll look at the opportunity we have and make the most of it. We ran well at Michigan, we were fast, and we’re going to bring our best truck and go all out to get in.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Race: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400

Place: Chicagoland Speedway

Date and Time: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 2:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)

What to Watch For: The 16-driver, four-elimination round Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup kicks off this weekend. … The winner of the opening Chase race has gone on to win the championship three times: Kurt Busch (2004), Tony Stewart (2011), Brad Keselowski (2012). … Defending Chicagoland race-winner Denny Hamlin goes for his second straight checkered flag after visiting Victory Lane at Richmond last weekend. … Tony Stewart embarks on his final Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. … Jimmie Johnson eyes a seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, which would tie him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the most championships all-time. … 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick enters the Chase leading the series in average running position (8.2), driver rating (110.3) and fastest laps run (830). … Four drivers are set to compete in their first Chase: Kyle Larson, 24, Chris Buescher, 23, Chase Elliott, 20, and Austin Dillon, 26.

NASCAR XFINITY Series

Race: Drive for Safety 300

Place: Chicagoland Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, Sept. 17 at 3 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)

What to Watch For: NASCAR XFINITY Series drivers have one more chance to lock up a spot in the Chase with a win. … Blake Koch and Ryan Sieg attempt to hold on to the final two Chase spots via points. The closest drivers behind them currently out of the Chase are Dakoda Armstrong (20 points behind Sieg on the cutoff line) and Jeremy Clements (-29). … Erik Jones goes for his second career win at Chicagoland. He won the June standalone there last year.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: American Ethanol E15 225

Place: Chicagoland Speedway

Date and Time: Friday, Sept. 16 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 225 miles (150 laps)

What to Watch For: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers have one more chance to lock up a spot in the Chase with a win. If there is no new winner, Daniel Hemric and Timothy Peters are virtually assured the final two spots in the Chase via points. … John Hunter Nemechek hopes to defend his victory from last year at Chicagoland and win his second consecutive race after taking the checkered flag at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park two weeks ago. … Daniel Hemric goes into the race with a streak of three consecutive top-three finishes.

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