By: Jeff Wackerlin – @JWackerlin Twitter and Instagram | MRN.com on August 15, 2017 | 6:30 P.M. EST
Brad Keselowski, who is a two-time winner at Chicagoland, posted a lap of 29.479 seconds, 183.181 mph in the morning session. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
JOLIET, Ill. – Ten Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams are participating in a two day organizational test at Chicagoland Speedway.
The test is an important one because not only does Chicago kick off the NASCAR Playoffs, but it’s also one of five 1.5-mile tracks in the final 10 races of the season.
Six of the drivers testing already have at least one win this season (Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) and will be looking to begin their championship quest when the series returns to Chicagoland for the Tales of the Turtles 400 on Sept. 17.
Keselowski, who is a two-time winner at Chicagoland, was the fastest driver on the opening day with a lap of 29.479 seconds, 183.181 mph in the morning session. He was also third quick in the afternoon.
“I think we had an OK day,” Keselowski said. “We learned a few things and we’re just trying to find some more speed.”
Stenhouse Jr. topped the afternoon session with a time of 29.703 seconds, 181.800 mph coming on his first lap right after the lunch break.
“I think we jumped to the top of the charts when we caught a cloud,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “I thought the car was better in the second part of the day. We did a lot of long runs trying to get a balance and to see if we can get this thing to hold on a little bit longer. This is getting more and more like Atlanta, especially Turns 3 and 4.”
Sunny skies and hot temperatures greeted drivers and teams on the first day.
“It’s nice the sun is out and it’s hot and slippery here and the track is taking a bunch of rubber,” Ryan Blaney said. “It’s nice to have nice conditions hopefully close to race conditions. Being in the playoffs you can kind of get a little bit of a head start of what it’s going to be like, hopefully.”
The common theme with the drivers is that they like coming to Chicagoland because it has one of the oldest racing surfaces on the circuit.
“I kind of wish we came here twice a year,” Blaney said. “This place is a really fun racetrack. It’s one of those places that you can run on the bottom all the way to the wall and it’s consistently moving every single lap. I think it’s a great place to kick off the playoffs.”
“Chicago is still an awesome track,” said Austin Dillon, who completed the most laps (88) in the afternoon in the heat of the day. “It’s slick and tires wear out. You can see the tires fall off pretty quick here from Lap 1 to Lap 10. It definitely got a little bit rougher I think from this past year to now and that’s a good thing also so we can adjust on these cars to make them handle a little bit differently.”
Based off a test in early June, Goodyear brought a new combination of left- and right-side tires that will be run in the playoff opening race. The new tire setup will provide higher grip and is designed for more wear. The right-side tire is a slightly different construction aligning with other intermediate tracks. The left-side tire is the same that was used at Auto Club Speedway.
“Any laps you can get on a current track on the right tire is hugely beneficial,” Jimmie Johnson said. “This track is always a lot of fun and it’s certainly aged a little bit more and there’s a little more character in the track, which I appreciate and love.”
Matt Kenseth, who currently is the 16th and final driver in the playoff standings, was second quick in the afternoon.
Alex Bowman (Chevrolet), Drew Herring (Toyota) and David Ragan (Ford) were also at the test, completing laps in wheel-force cars for each manufacturer. Instead of chasing speed, the goal for these three drivers is to gather data for Goodyear and for the manufacturers to share with their respective teams. Ragan also participated in the Goodyear tire test in June.
Teams will conclude the test tomorrow.