NASCAR Set to Kick Off Second Half of the Season at Chicagoland Speedway

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series kicks off the second half of the 2006 racing season at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend. Jimmie Johnson; Matt Kenseth; Dale Earnhardt Jr.; Kasey Kahne; and Tony Stewart are off to hot starts in 2006, combining for 12 of the 17 wins this season. All five drivers look to continue their winning ways and remain in the running for the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.

Jimmie Johnson (who currently ranks first in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup point standings with 2,501) has scored four consecutive top-five finishes in as many races at Chicagoland Speedway. Johnson also has a 3.0 average finish at Chicagoland, which is the best among drivers with more than one start at the track. Last season, Johnson captured the pole and set a new qualifying record with his 188.147 mph run on July 8, 2005. He was one of six drivers to break Chicagoland Speedway's previous qualifying record of 186.942 mph set by Jeff Gordon in 2004.

Matt Kenseth (who has competed in all five races at the track) heads into Chicagoland ranked second with 2,493 points, trailing Johnson by only eight points. In last year's USG SHEETROCK® 400, Kenseth fell just short of his first victory at the 1.5-mile tri-oval, falling behind with only 11 laps to go after pacing the pack for a track-best 176 laps. At Chicagoland Speedway, Kenseth has posted two to-10 finishes, has been running at the finish in all of his races and has a 9.4 finishing average.

2005 USG SHEETROCK® 400 defending champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who currently ranks third in points with 2,234) looks to become only the second driver to record back-to-back victories at Chicagoland Speedway. Last year's win at Chicagoland was his only trip to Gatorade Victory Lane in 2005, a year in which he finished a career-low 19th in the standings. Along with scoring his first and only victory of the season, Earnhardt Jr. set a new track record for fewest laps led by a race winner with 11. One major contributing factor in his victory was a late pit stop strategy that saw his car take only two tires while Kenseth's crew opted for a full four-tire change. Earnhardt Jr.'s win also marked the closest finish at Chicagoland Speedway, after he edged out Kenseth by 0.291 seconds.

Despite finishing 36th and 41st respectively in his only two races at Chicagoland Speedway, Kasey Kahne has high hopes of turning things around this season. Kahne (who currently ranks fourth in points with 2,209) leads all NASCAR drivers with four victories this season, and has finished in the top-10 in 10 of 17 races this season. This weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, Kahne will be behind the wheel of the same car that has brought him all four of his victories, which have all occurred at 1.5-mile tracks.

2005 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Champion Tony Stewart enters the USG NASCAR weekend on a role after winning his second consecutive Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 1, 2006. Stewart (who currently ranks fifth in points with 2,202) has competed in all five races at Chicagoland Speedway, scoring one victory (2004) and four consecutive top-5 finishes (2002-2005), which ties Jimmie Johnson for the most top-5 finishes at the track. He also leads all drivers with 275 laps led at Chicagoland Speedway, including a track-high 160 laps (2004), which is the most laps led by a race winner at the 1.5-mile tri-oval. Stewart's 2.925-second margin of victory over Jimmie Johnson in 2004 was good enough to set a new track record for the largest margin of victory.

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