NASCAR's two-day show at Chicagoland Speedway created a busy day for teams. Two practices before the Xfinity race and qualification afterward – much later than the race will be run on Sunday – created some issues for the drivers. They were forced to guess a little on setups and strike a balance between what is needed for race trim and time trials.
“With the impound stuff it is a little more difficult to hit the qualifying stuff than what it was when it is a whole qualifying setup,” Kevin Harvick said after failing to advance to the final round of qualification on Saturday. “We were just too loose. We made a lot of changes to our car for tomorrow and the impound does make it a little difficult to his the setup sometimes.”
Now, fantasy players have to do a little guessing too.
Making matters worse, several drivers failed post-qualification inspection and will drop to the back of the pack to start the race. Since they had their times disallowed, their official starting position will be credited according to owner points and earn place-differential points based on that spot on the grid.
Denny Hamlin (qualified fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (13th), Jimmie Johnson (22nd), and Chris Buescher (23rd) failed inspection.
Martin Truex Jr. had the quickest 10-lap average in the first practice session. The conditions faced in this practice are closer to what drivers will face at the beginning of the race. It took a second effort to advance to the final round of qualification – which used up his tires – so Truex did not perform particularly well and qualified 12th. His time was disallowed and he will start on one of the final three rows, but should earn significant place-differential points.
He will be joined in the middle of the pack by Harvick, who lines up 13th on the grid. Harvick had the quickest 10-lap average in Happy Hour when the conditions are more similar to what will be faced in the middle and end of the race. Harvick will follow Truex through the field and both of them will be inside the top five well before the conclusion of the first stage, however.
Of course, everyone is going to have Harvick and Truex on their roster, so anyone who wants to differentiate their lineup is going to have to check out the drivers who landed second on the average speed chart. Brad Keselowski was second-best in the first session. Jamie McMurray was the runner-up in Happy Hour.
Given the current top-10 streak of Keselowski, he is the better bet to finish with the leaders. But McMurray is likely to be much cheaper in salary cap games and could still find his way onto several rosters of players not afraid to take some risks.
Ten years after first sitting on the pole at Daytona International Speedway, Paul Menard scored another. He posted a lap of 180.012 mph and was the only driver to top the 180 mark. That sounds great on the face of things, but it is likely that Menard had a full blown qualification setup on his car that will not work particularly well in race trim. He will drop quickly at the start of the race, but after making an adjustment should be able to climb back through the field. A top-15 is the most likely result, which is going to reflect some lost place-differential points.
Menard beat Ryan Blaney in qualification. Team Penske has been strong at Chicagoland during their history with long streaks for both Keselowski and Joey Logano. Blaney debuted on this track two years ago with a fourth-place finish in the Wood Bros. Ford and is in faster equipment this time around. Like Menard, he is expected to fall back during the first segment, but recover and challenge for a top-10.
Truex and Harvick are not the only two dominators that struggled in qualification. Kyle Busch also appears to have given up on finding a fast setup for time trials and will line up 18th. He is going to come to the front in a hurry and as a result will earn positive place-differential points.
In his return to an unrestricted, intermediate speedway, Trevor Bayne acquitted himself well. He narrowly missed advancing into the second round of qualification and rolls off 25th – one spot behind his teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Both drivers could be considered long shots to score top-15s and should be considered as fillers if they fit the right salary cap niche.