by M Roberts
Because of this weeks NASCAR Sprint Cup series race being run on Saturday night, NASCAR held their first practice session and qualifying on Thursday night. Brian Vickers led both sessions and will be on the pole for the Lifelock.com 400 on Saturday after laying a blistering fast lap over a second faster than the second qualifier.
The annual Chicago races fall into a category for most teams as being completely different from most tracks because of the banking. The 1.5 mile configuration and layout is very similar to Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks like Las Vegas, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Atlanta, but compared to their 24 degrees of banking, Chicago’s 18 degrees makes a world of difference in the set-up.
Chicago’s sister track at Kansas would appear to be the similar in configuration and banking, but the 15 degrees of banking on that track make all the difference into being completely different as far as set-ups go. Over the course of the short history between the two tracks, there hasn't been any real correlation in driver trends between the two.
Most of the Cup teams coming into this week have brought their Michigan chassis’, at least if they did well in Michigan, because the banking is very similar despite the difference in distance being a half-mile between the two facilities.
Seeing Brian Vickers roll out to the front of the charts makes complete sense when piecing the puzzle together in this track that is somewhat odd from all trends, because he sat on the pole at Michigan, along with being second fastest in Michigan’s first practice and third fastest in happy hour there.
The individual lap times were very good for Vickers in practice, but as the race ran, Vickers was not a contender, in particular on the long runs. Vickers finished ninth at Michigan and never led a lap.
The driver that had the biggest impact at Michigan during the actual race was Jimmie Johnson, who came out firing this week as well. Johnson led 154 of the 200 laps at Michigan this year but ran out of fuel just as he was about to take the white flag. Johnson finished just ahead of Vickers in the first Michigan practice and then qualified third.
Thursday night, Johnson practiced fourth best and qualified third while driving the exact same chassis that saw him dominate Michigan.
If looking to explore the Michigan theme a little more, Mark Martin and Greg Biffle had the second and third best cars overall in that race that Martin eventually won. Biffle ran out of fuel on the last lap of the Michigan race, while Martin cashed in brilliantly with his third win of the season.
At this stage, average times from the first practice are somewhat irrelevant because so many were in qualifying trim at different stages of practice, which makes single lap times considerably faster.
The top surprise runs from practice were Vickers teammate Scott Speed who was third along with Johnsons’ alleged teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr who was sixth.
Thursday Practice Session #1:
1) #83 Brian Vickers 180.234
2) #5-Martin 180.180
3) #82-Speed 180.060
4) #48-Johnson 179.766
5) #24-Gordon 179.766
slowest: #96-Labonte 173.700 & #51-Bean 172.678#71-Gilliland brought out the caution early when he lost an engine and dropped fluid on the track.
TOP 5 Chicago Qualifiers
1) #82 Brian Vickers 184.162
2) #83 Scott Speed 182.958
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson 182.217
4) #11 Denny Hamlin 182.162
5) #33 Clint Bowyer 182.100
DNQ: Mike Wallace, Dexter Bean, and Tony Raines