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Turbulent times at the Speedway
By Kevin Schmit | Daily Herald Staff

Kyle Busch has the pole for tonight's 400, but no pole-sitter has yet won NASCAR's main attraction at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet.


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Published: 7/12/2008 12:04 AM

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From Tony Stewart's announcement that he'll become a NASCAR team owner to the vicious storm that ripped through Joliet and canceled qualifying, it's already been an eventful week at Chicagoland Speedway.

All that's left now is the waving of the green flag.

The eighth edition of Sprint Cup Series racing in Joliet begins at 7 p.m. today with the running of the 400. It's the first Sprint Cup night race for the track.

Friday's Nationwide Series race gave many drivers a preview of the impact night racing will have on the conditions. Tonight's race also marks the track's Car of Tomorrow debut, adding further mystery to the event.

It'll all be sorted out when pole-sitter Kyle Busch goes for his seventh win this season in an attempt to expand his margin atop the Sprint Cup standings. None of the previous seven pole winners in Joliet have won from the top spot.

Plenty of competition stands in Busch's way led by a trio of Hendrick Motorsports teammates trying to stem the momentum of the former Hendrick driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr., second in the points standings and the 2005 race winner, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson start in the first three rows along with Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards.

They're all wondering how they'll do with a new car under new lights.

"There is no comparison because we've never run here with the car before," said Gordon, the 2006 race winner. "So all the notes and everything that we've learned from the past is pretty much out the window. Other than knowing where the bumps and dips are, it's all new for us."

Stewart, last year's winner, starts 12th and, like Gordon, is in search of his first win of the season.

After a week filled with drama - dealing with an illness that forced him to retire early from last week's race in Daytona, his release from Joe Gibbs Racing, the announcement of his Stewart-Haas Racing ownership deal - Stewart's itching to get back to racing.

"When it comes to the driving side and the competition side as far as race weekends, I'm dedicated 100 percent to the program I'm in right now and trying to do the best we can and focusing 100 percent of the time," Stewart said.

In addition to Earnhardt Jr., Gordon and Stewart, past race winners include Ryan Newman and two-time champion Kevin Harvick.

Harvick leads all drivers with four wins at Chicagoland Speedway, two in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.

With Harvick sitting in 13th place in the Sprint Cup standings, 2 points behind Tony Stewart for the final spot in the Race to the Chase, racing in Joliet couldn't have come at a better time for the struggling No. 29 team.

The Race to the Chase standings are tightening up for many drivers in the mix for a top-12 spot. Heading into tonight only 34 points separate eighth-place Kasey Kahne from Harvick.

"Chicago has obviously been really good to us as far as the numbers go but a lot of other places have been good to us, too, as far as the numbers have gone and nothing has really gone right this year," Harvick said. "It's good to come to a race track where things are going good and hopefully you get that monkey off your back and you can go on with it."