CLICK: Full Sprint Cup starting grid and practice times from Chicagoland Speedway.
Chilly conditions, mist, showers and rain caused a wash-out of NASCAR activities at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday evening, and forced the cancellation of the qualifying session for this weekend's MyAfibStory.com 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
As a result, the starting grid for Sunday's race - the first of the 2014 Chase play-offs that will decide this year's Cup champion - was set according to the times in the sole practice session held earlier in the day.
Joe Gibb Racing's Kyle Busch had shot to the top of the timing charts late in the 90-minute session with a lap of 28.207s (191.442mph) on the 1.5-mile tri-oval located in Joliet, Illinois, putting him 0.059s ahead of fellow Chase contender Ryan Newman in the Richard Childress Racing #31.
"When an opportune time presents itself, you have to make the best of the moment and whether it's practice or the race," said Busch. "You hope track conditions are similar to what you would race on Sunday.
"Practice for us went pretty well," he continued. "It started out slow, but guys did a real nice job on the M&M's Camry today to get us to where we needed to be. Everybody back at the shop is building some great stuff and TRD [Toyota Racing Development] making some improvements for the Chase here this weekend and whatnot.
"Having a good time there in practice means a lot, but there's obviously a lot of things that need to happen in the race this weekend for us and getting off to a good start and being able to carry that into the next ten weeks," he added.
Carl Edwards will start from the second row alongside his current Roush Fenway Racing team mate Ricky Stenhouse Jr., while row three is an all-Toyota affair with JGR's Matt Kenseth set to start from fifth place alongside Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer. While Kenseth made the Chase based on the points standings, Bowyer just missed out by seven points in the final reckoning.,
Jimmie Johnson will start Sunday's race from seventh place on the grid, after reporting no ill-effects from his dramatic post-race collapse last weekend at Richmond International Raceway from extreme dehydration, which the team confirmed was caused by a faulty driver cooling system in the #48.
"The team found an issue with the cooling system for my helmet," Johnson explained mid-week. "Basically, it was blowing warm air. It's nice to have a good idea as to what went wrong and why I got so hot in the race car. It's a newer system that we've implemented, so we're just going back to our old faithful system that's worked for years and years. We should have the problem rectified.
"The cool box itself has a fan in it; and then there is a fan behind it to help increase the air speed," he elaborated later. "So there was some air coming out of it but the A/C portion of it wasn't working. So when they did a quick check of things at the track initially, with the switch on I'm sure there was some air coming out, but as they got in deeper and pulled the cool box out and tested it, it wasn't working."
Johnson will start alongside his Hendrick Motorsport team mate and fellow multiple Cup champion Jeff Gordon. A trio of non-Chase contenders - Paul Menard, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray - separate Gordon from Kevin Harvick who will start in 12th place just ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch on row seven.
The remaining Chase contenders will have to fight their way from further back on Sunday: AJ Allmendinger starts 17th, Kasey Kahne 19th, Greg Biffle 20th, Aric Almirola 23rd and Denny Hamlin 24th. Hardest hit by the qualifying washout are the Force pair of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano who will start the first Chase race from 25th and 28th respectively versus their impressive track record of making it into the final top-12 pole shootout round in the normal qualifying elimination format that has been used by NASCAR to set the grid in 2014.
Meanwhile away from the track, the Ontario County (NY) Sheriff's Department said that it had completed its investigation into the accident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park that claimed the life of Kevin Ward Jr. on August 9. Ward was struck by a car driven by Tony Stewart and died of blunt force trauma injuries during a regional sprint car dirt track race. Sheriff Philip Povero said that the report had now been sent to the district attorney, who is expected to announce any legal actions arising from the tragic events late next week.
Stewart missed three races following the accident but has been back in the #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet for the last two races. He will start this week's from 22nd place on the grid; he did not make the Chase and is therefore no longer in the running for this year's championship.
As well as the Cup qualifying session, the rain also meant that the second NASCAR Nationwide Series practice session was washed out, along with qualifying for the Lucas Oil 225 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race that had been scheduled for Friday night. With rain making that impossible, the race will now be rolled over to Saturday evening instead where it will take place after the Nationwide Series race, with weather forecasts looking much more promising for dry conditions.
See full Sprint Cup starting grid and practice times from Chicagoland Speedway.