With a solid half of the season under the drivers’ belts, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Chicagoland Speedway on July 8-10. On-track action begins on Friday with drivers exceeding speeds of 185 mph in both NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Series practice and qualifying sessions. NEXTEL Cup will wrap up its final practice sessions and the Busch Series will take to the track on Saturday for the USG Durock 300 while the NEXTEL Cup Series competes in USG Sheetrock 400 on Sunday.

Before there’s too much time to think about what will happen Sunday, teams will do their best to prepare the car for Friday’s qualification runs – something that at least one driver thinks is a vital part of the weekend.

“The biggest challenge at Chicago is getting good track position because it’s really hard to pass there -- the further back you are, the more aero push becomes a factor,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 8 car. “We could do ourselves a favor by qualifying well.”

When Sunday does roll around, NEXTEL Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson, who won the 2001 Busch Series event at the 1.5-mile oval, will try to increase his lead of 73 points ahead of second- place Greg Biffle. Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, originally from Rockford, Ill., will do his best to get the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet off pit road first, as he’s trying to win in front of a hometown crowd.

As the driver with the most wins this season – claiming five of the season’s 17 races contested – Biffle is a threat for a trip to Gatorade Victory Lane. Tony Stewart comes to Chicagoland third in points with two wins this season, both of which have come in the last two races. As Chicagoland Speedway’s defending champion, he’s a favorite in the 400-mile event on Sunday.

Add in the winner of the first two NASCAR NEXTEL Cup races at the speedway, Kevin Harvick, and the remaining field of NEXTEL Cup drivers – including retiring drivers of Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace and Terry Labonte – and you get an incredible sold-out show for motorsports fans.

USG NASCAR weekend kicks off tomorrow with the USG Pole Day practice and qualifying. Tickets for USG Pole Day are $15, children 12 and under are free.

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