Here’s something I haven’t been able to write much of this week in the wake of the controversies and drama surrounding the last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond: a racing story leading into this week’s race at Chicago.
The overwhelming majority of NASCAR’s 12 Chasers in 2013 said the biggest key to success in terms of winning the championship is being good at the 1.5-mile ovals, the somewhat derided “cookie-cutter” intermediate ovals in-between a short track and a superspeedway.
Matt Kenseth enters 2013 as a Chase favorite because of his success on the 1.5-milers. He has a series-high five wins this year, three of them coming on the 1.5-milers at Las Vegas, Kansas and Kentucky.
“Yeah you’re right, certainly that’s been our strongsuit, mile and a half and intermediate tracks,” Kenseth told me in a phone interview last month. “I think it’s constantly a moving target. Be good everywhere but have some excellent tracks. We have a legitimate shot at the championship because of that. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and I hit it off right away earlier this year, we have a really good leadership style and race team.”
If Kenseth doesn’t pull off his second career title in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, his old team Roush Fenway Racing has two contenders in Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. Edwards acknowledged Chicago will provide a good outlook at Chase contenders and pretenders.
“You get a good measure of how the field is going to stack up,” Edwards said Thursday at NASCAR’s Chase media advance. “It’s a track where you can do well on your own merit. You won’t be mired in the back if you have a bad stop.”
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson said his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team has had the speed on the 1.5-milers this year but not the finishes, nor the momentum. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne said you “need” to be good at these tracks to have any sort of shot.
Here’s a rundown of race winners on the 1.5-milers this year. Note all 2013 race winners thus far are in the Chase:
3. Las Vegas Matt Kenseth 7. Texas Kyle Busch 8. Kansas Matt Kenseth 12. Charlotte Kevin Harvick 17. Kentucky Matt Kenseth 25. Atlanta Kyle Busch 1.5-mile races in Chase, with 2012 winner 27. Chicago Brad Keselowski 30. Kansas Matt Kenseth 31. Charlotte Clint Bowyer 34. Texas Jimmie Johnson 36. Homestead Jeff Gordon