Kevin Harvick used to circle the date for NASCAR's visit to Chicagoland Speedway at the beginning of the year.
Who could blame him?
Harvick won the first two Nextel Cup races at the 1.-5 mile track in 2001 and 2002, which quickly became one of his favorites on the tour.
But then the winds of fortune changed direction for Harvick in the Windy City. Harvick suffered through finishes of 17th, 10th and 19th the next three starts, suddenly struggling at a track that had been so good to him when it first opened its gates.
"Obviously, we got off to a really good start the first two years," Harvick said. "Seems like we are always running in the top 10 and I think it is a pretty good race track for us."
Harvick was able to notch a fourth-place finish last year in Chicago and hopes to use that as a place to build on for a possible third trip to Victory Lane this Sunday as well as a momentum-builder for the rest of the season.
"We know as a team that we can run good here and that helps our confidence certainly coming into the weekend," Harvick said. "I think it's just trying to get the momentum on our side and get things going our way to go along with the performance of the race cars being pretty good."
Matt Kenseth had one of those pretty good race cars at Chicago in last year's race until he and Jeff Gordon made contact racing for the lead down the stretch.
Gordon went on to Victory Lane while Kenseth limped home 22nd, a disappointing end to his day at what is close to being a home race track so close in proximity to his native Wisconsin.
"We've had a car capable of winning the past two years but for one reason or another, that just hasn't happened," Kenseth said, still trying to keep a positive outlook. "Some might think that it's really frustrating, and it is, but I also think we should be proud that we've had a car capable of putting us in position to win."
Kenseth will try again this weekend for the first Cup win at his adopted home track, although he doesn't see any kind of home-field advantage.
"Well not an advantage but I certainly see fans and family and friends a lot more than, probably any other track we go," said Kenseth, who will extend his visit to the Midwest on Tuesday with a trip to Slinger Superspeedway, a short track north of Milwaukee where he cut his teeth early in his racing career.
"Yeah it's always fun to be able to get back to places like Slinger and to be able to tie it in with the NASCAR weekend in Chicago is great," he said. "We'd sure like to bring the Chicagoland trophy with us up to Slinger and show it off to our friends and fans up there."
Another Midwestern guy hoping for better things in Chicago this weekend is Tony Stewart.
A former Chicagoland winner, Stewart comes into this weekend's race on the heels of a disastrous finish in Daytona for the Joe Gibbs Racing team. Stewart and teammate Denny Hamlin made contact on Lap 14, an incident that knocked both out of the race and sent emotions skyrocketing.
"I don't know. It's tore up two really good cars," Stewart said of his tangle with Hamlin. "He tried to crash us on Friday in practice and didn't get it done so he finished it off today. I mean he's a young guy and he wants to be successful, but I don't know if he knows the definition of 'team' right now."
Stewart insists everything is fine now and that last week's problems are in the past. He's ready to move on and a solid day this Sunday would be the positive step he's been looking for in an up and down season.
"Denny and I can handle anything that happens on the race track with each other," Stewart said. "We're both professional drivers and can handle it. Everybody is good and we're all focused on doing what we all do every week. We’re over that hurdle."
"We need a good week, that's for sure. The good thing is that the morale of the team is up. This team has battled adversity so many times that it takes a lot to beat this team down."
Stewart's 38th-place finish last Saturday dropped him to seventh in the series standings. But he's close to being a lock to make the Chase and plans on taking it one race at a time in his quest for a third series title this season.
"We're not changing our approach," he said. "Every week our goal is to win the race, and that's not going to change. That's how we've won two championships. If we go out and win the race, the points take care of themselves. It's always been that way, and it always will be that way. We'll try to go out and win the race each weekend, and at the end of the day we'll look at the point standings and see where we're at."
Story Courtesy: CBS.Sportsline.com & AP Wire Reports
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