Friday, July 10, 2009

Chicago Final Practice Almost Carbon Copy of Michigan

by M Roberts

Many Crew Chiefs who had success at Michigan brought the same Chassis for this Saturday Night’s 400 at Chicago Speedway. Friday’s two practice sessions were the final tune-up prior to Saturday night’s race and if the times are any indication at all, Michigan‘s top performers from last months race are all equally as good as they were then.

The pole sitter for Michigan is again atop the qualifying charts for Chicago. While in race trim, Vickers is just as fast managing a ninth fastest lap in the first session averaging the second fastest lap times among all drivers who ran at least twenty laps.

During happy hour, Vickers came out with the third fastest lap on the first of thirty-eight laps run. Vickers was very good at Michigan as well before the race, but settled for a ninth place finish which had to be somewhat disappointing considering how good they were in practice there.

The top three cars from Michigan combining practice and actual race performance were Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, and Mark Martin. Johnson led the most laps while his Hendrick teammate had the best practice sessions. Greg Biffle had a great practice and race as well.

Johnson was dominant in leading the race but ran out of fuel just prior to getting the white flag.
Greg Biffle was in second and had about two seconds of excitement as being the leader and then he then ran out of fuel on the last lap enabling Martin to get the win.

If we look at the practice times from Friday, sitting at the top of each session are the Hendrick teammates again. Johnson led the first of the day and had the fastest average times among all those that ran at least 20 laps. Martin was fastest in happy hour, the final session, just like he was in Michigan.

Biffle, who had been fourth fastest in Michigan happy hour, turned out to be fifth quickest in Friday’s first session making the entire Chicago race look like a serious case of Deja-vu.

Clint Bowyer had a very good couple of sessions Friday, just as he had at Michigan. More encouraging for the struggling Childress group, beyond Bowyer’s second fastest lap in happy hour, was seeing Jeff Burton run the fifth quickest lap in the final practice. Disappointing however, were the lap times of two-time Chicago winner Kevin Harvick who was twenty-sixth and twenty-fifth fastest.

Two very good runs, that came somewhat as a surprise, come from the Toyota’s driven by David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose. Reutimann was solid in all his average lap times and was fourth fastest in the first practice. Ambrose was consistently good in all sessions, running smart fast laps, especially on older tires.

Last Years Chicago winner, Kyle Busch, came out possessed in both Friday practices and ran the most combined laps of all the teams. Busch finished with the seventh fastest lap in each of the sessions. It is a normal occasion for Busch to run several more laps than others, but the pressure is building for the No. 18 team and it is likely there is a sense of urgency to at least get a top-5 finish, let alone a win. Busch has gone eight consecutive races without a top-5 finish. His last one was a win at Richmond.

The two drivers who showed up strong that could really mess up this week’s Deja-Vu party is Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne who led happy hour with the fastest average times. Gordon is a past Chicago winner who really needs to get that next win and carry momentum into the Chase.

Kasey Kahne has a new engine, a win under his belt, feels good, is fast on long runs, and is currently in the Chase after it looking impossible several weeks ago. Things are definitely looking good for Kahne this week.

Biffle and Carl Edwards were the top performing Ford’s who are looking to get manufacturer it’s first Chicago Cup win ever. As good as Roush-Fenway has been on all the 1.5 mile tracks along with Michigan and California, it is very strange to have not seen a Ford in the winners circle in a period in which Roush had dominated.

Happy Hour practice - Practice #3 - Fastest Times:
#5-Martin 175.861
#33-Bowyer 175.547
#83-Vickers 174.899
#24-Gordon 173.823
#31-Burton 173.796
slowest: #96-Labonte 170.627 & #09-Bliss 169.972

Best “Average Speeds” among those running at least 30 laps:
1) #24 Gordon 171.161 (55 laps)
2) #9 Kahne 170.607 (53 laps)
3) #48 Johnson 170.572 (35 laps)
4) #18 Ky. Busch 170.471 (65 laps)

First Friday Practice - Practice #2 overall - Fastest Times:
1) #48-Johnson 177.200
2) #99-Edwards 176.881
3) #11-Hamlin 176.725
4) #00-Reutimann 176.091
5) #16-Biffle 176.039
slowest: #71-Gilliland 170.138 & #96-Labonte 169.534notes: The session was cut down from 45 to 35 minutes so NASCAR could get 2 practices in before the Nationwide race.

Best “Average Speeds” among those running at least 20 laps:
1) #48 Johnson 171.220
2) #83 Vickers 171.214

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