Podium Preview: Camping World 400

Despite some inconsistent finishes, can Michael McDowell make noise in today's Camping World 400 at Chicagoland? (Photo Credit: Matteo Marcheschi)

Despite some inconsistent finishes, can Michael McDowell make noise in today’s Camping World 400 at Chicagoland? (Photo Credit: Matteo Marcheschi)

Correspondingly, today’s Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway is more than another race.  Above all, it’s the site of one of the more memorable finishes in recent NASCAR memory.  In particular, it was the duel between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.

With this in mind, it’s a bit of a different situation with lower horsepower and more downforce.  Still, might we see more momentous happenings at this 1.5-mile track in Joliet, Ill.?  In particular, might we see another duel between Busch and Larson with redemption for the latter and duplication for the former?

For the most part, Joe Gibbs Racing maintains a stranglehold on the competition for this season.  In the same way that Mercedes dominates Formula 1, JGR feasts on each Cup race weekend.  Then again, might their competition be waiting in the wings for the right moment such as today’s Camping World 400?

At the present time, The Podium Finish’s Ashley HobbsChristina BowmanCody Shoppe, Danielle Lockemy, Kathleen CassidyKatie CoppleJose Acero JrKobe LambethMatt Sisoler, and yours truly ruminate about Matt DiBenedetto’s fantastic fourth at Sonoma and the next NASCAR superstar in waiting.

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Question 1
Will Matt DiBenedetto net another strong finish in the Camping World 400? (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Will Matt DiBenedetto net another strong finish in the Camping World 400? (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Among the feelgood stories at Sonoma was Matt DiBenedetto who scored a career best fourth-place finish.  How big of a boost was it for DiBenedetto and Leavine Family Racing to get a strong result in a race that featured few caution periods?

Bowman :  Matt DiBendetto has been grinding hard to do well for himself and for his team and all that hard work paid off in Sonoma. It takes a special skill set to excel at road course tracks. If he can establish himself as one of the top contenders in that area, it can only help to boost the reputation and morale for not only himself, but his team as well.

In a race with little to no cautions, to finish fourth speaks volumes about his trust in his crew chiefs decisions. I hope that the organization uses this at a catalyst for moments throughout the remainder of the season.  

Lockemy :  DiBenedetto’s finish was a boost for both driver and team given they are a small team that works with a smaller budget. The coverage he is receiving for this career best finish gives partners of LFR a boost in confidence to stick with DiBenedetto. 

Also, this finish tells a story of the type of driver DiBenedetto might be. AJ Allmendinger received the same type of finishes when racing on oval tracks, but was always one to watch on the road courses. No. 95 is definitely going to be a must-watch at Chicagoland to see if the momentum will carry over. He’ll be someone to keep an eye on when the series heads to Watkins Glen in a few weeks. 

Shoppe :  This awesome run for DiBenedetto is huge for him! Every week when it seems Christopher Bell wins an XFINITY race, we hear talk that he is headed to Leavine Family Racing next year.

Matt DiBenedetto has been doing such a great job in the 95 car this year. This statement run at Sonoma shows he is certainly deserving of this ride. Also, it is so refreshing to see someone show how appreciative they are for the chance to race cars for a living! 

Sisoler :  It’s well overdue for Matt DiBenedetto, who I feel has been racing extremely well and had some solid runs this year but had one thing or another deny him the position he, and Leavine Family Racing, have deserved. For that team, they showed some speed last year with Kasey Kahne and Chevrolets. Yet, they had all the hardships, including losing Kahne due to medical reasons midway through 2018. So, getting a fourth place at Sonoma, which is by no means an easy track to deal with, had to feel like a win.

For DiBenedetto, who is definitely one of the sports’ most personable drivers, it has to feel like a victory and vindication of his talent. His previous best finish was a sixth-place finish at Bristol back in 2016 for BK Racing.  Along the way, he had just three top-10s in 2017 and 2018. For him to be able to get his first top five, running for LFR in what is in essence, JGR-Lite equipment, shows all of NASCAR that he’s not just another driver. He has some considerable talent.

Tiongson :  By all means, Matt DiBenedetto’s fourth-place result at Sonoma last Sunday was incredible, particularly considering the Californian’s racing story and Leavine Family Racing’s journey.  While road courses aren’t frequent on the Cup schedule, it has to be an uplifting moment for the hardy No. 95 team.

Sure, DiBenedetto receives acclaim as one of the sport’s most underrated superspeedway racers. Perhaps he’s grown into a road course racer.  If he learned from AJ Allmendinger, he’ll make gains with Joe Gibbs Racing’s success on the consistent speedways of NASCAR.

Question 2
Hailie Deegan seems to be NASCAR's next icon. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Hailie Deegan seems to be NASCAR’s next icon. (Photo Credit: Josh Jones/TPF)

Who is a potential superstar racer that you’re watching as they work their way up in NASCAR?

Acero : With the good looks and that fiery attitude on track, I would love to see Hailie Deegan in the XFINITY Series and show everyone that she belongs behind the wheel of a race car. Don’t forget that she applied “The Intimidator” move on her teammate Derek Kraus a few weeks back.  As a result, she scored another win. 

Cassidy :  It would be amazing to see Hailie Deegan succeed at the top level of NASCAR. I feel like female drivers are underestimated based on past female drivers in the sport. This young star has shown she has the determination and heart to race against the guys and take the checkered flag. 

Copple :  Hailie Deegan has a lot of potential to succeed in racing and at the top level of the sport as well. We need more female drivers. We need more female drivers that are given the same opportunities as the men they race against. If a female driver can hold her own with the boys, she deserves to be out in that field.

Anyone with the talent deserves a ride, regardless of their gender. Hailie Deegan is that driver. She has talent, a great personality, a growing fan base, and the drive (no pun intended) to learn and grow as a race car driver. I see her going far in this sport. 

Hobbs :  The spotlight has clearly been on Hailie Deegan this year, and if she can keep up with her solid season and keeping the conversation going, we could very well see her in the top ranks soon. Unless you search for stories and other drivers, it is difficult for your average NASCAR fan to know of the young stars not in the top three series. However, Deegan has certainly done a solid job of making herself known.

Lambeth :  I am keeping my eye on a young kid, who is at the beginning of his racing career. Rajah Caruth is 17 years old and determined to make it in NASCAR. He got his start on iRacing, similar to Cup driver William Byron. Now, Caruth is racing in the Bojangles Summer Shootout at Charlotte Motor Speedway, driving a Legends car.

I have been keeping a close eye on Caruth as he shows improvement each week. As he continues to gain more experience, it will be interesting to see how far he can go. This is truly an amazing path towards a NASCAR career. Caruth has a bright future ahead of him as he continues to grow as a driver.

Cassidy went with a consistent Ryan Newman.

Cassidy went with a consistent Ryan Newman.

Meanwhile, a machine maintains its lead over the humans.

Meanwhile, a machine maintains its lead over the humans.

In the meantime, Ashley Hobbs breaks down the numbers for the Camping World 400 by Crunching the Numbers, Chicagoland style!
Might we see these team trends continue today at Chicagoland?

Might we see these team trends continue today at Chicagoland?

Interestingly, the race winner has an average starting spot of 14.5 while the average number of laps led by a winner is 76.7.

Interestingly, the race winner has an average starting spot of 14.5 while the average number of laps led by a winner is 76.7.

For the most part, Johnson prevails in these stats.

For the most part, Johnson prevails in these stats.

Now, here's your trends at Chicagoland since 2011.

Now, here’s your trends at Chicagoland since 2011.

Presently, these are your Chicagoland trends in the past five races.

Presently, these are your Chicagoland trends in the past five races.

Surely, the machine loves Kyle Busch.

Surely, the machine loves Kyle Busch.

Now, let’s cut to the chase and reveal our picks for today’s Camping World 400 at Chicagoland Speedway!
Penske bookends our picks for today!

Penske bookends our picks for today!

Acero :  Ryan Blaney finally scores the win! 

Cassidy :  Blaney.

Bowman :  I think Martin Truex Jr will score another window sticker at Chicagoland!

Lockemy :  Martin Truex Jr has the best average finishing position at Chicagoland and average speed late in a run, so I have a feeling he will maintain his good stats and take home another trophy from the Windy City. 

Tiongson :  Remember how strong Alex Bowman was at Kansas during that stretch of consecutive runner-up results?  Well, I’m thinking that we’ll see his No. 88 finally emerge in Victory Circle when all is said and done in Chicagoland!

Copple :  Bowman takes it!

Hobbs :  The best drivers this season come from the Joe Gibbs Racing camp, and the defending race winner, Kyle Busch, will be the one to raise the trophy this weekend.

Lambeth :  MTJ took Sonoma, so let’s keep the Joe Gibbs Racing domination going for another week. Kyle Busch will win back-to-back at Chicagoland. 

Shoppe :  Kyle Busch will win again at Chicagoland in hopefully just as exciting circumstances as last year! 

TPF Stats :  Look for none other than Kyle Busch to get back to victory lane this weekend.

Sisoler :  I’m surprised that we’re not seeing more of the driver I’m picking for Chicagoland. He’s run strong at other 1.5-mile tracks this year. In fact, two of his three wins from 2019 come on tracks of those lengths. Not to mention, he had strong runs at other 1.5-milers this year, but circumstances denied him good finishes. 

Not to mention, he’s got two career wins at a track that, as far as I know, is missing a golden chance to be nicknamed “The Windy Speedway.” I’m going with one of the Cup drivers from my home state of Michigan. After all, it’s gonna be Miller Time at Chicago! Bad Brad, Brad Keselowski, is gonna be driving his No. 2 Ford to Victory Lane on Sunday!

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Camping World 400 at Chicagoland!

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into Sunday’s race and who is your favorite to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  We hope to see you at the races in 2019. 

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes and are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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