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Dedicated Cup drivers spend off week racing Nationwide

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JOLIET, Ill. -- Kasey Kahne picked driving in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race over entering a sprint car event in Pennsylvania. Kyle Larson had no interest in voyaging to some sunny, blue-watered Caribbean island.

The two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars aren't taking the weekend off from the track, despite the Cup Series not racing this weekend. While vacation pictures from other drivers populate Twitter, Kahne and Larson climbed into their respective Nationwide Series cars Friday for two practice sessions in advance of Saturday's EnjoyIllinois.com 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.

"I flew here with Kasey, and I brought up an article I read earlier this week that said we either really love racing, or we have no social life," Larson said Friday. "I'd say it's a little bit of both." 

Being in a great position to win couldn't have hurt, either. Larson has two Nationwide Series wins this year, and in four races on 1.5-mile tracks, he has one win, three top-fives and four top-10s.

Kahne, meanwhile, has driven two Nationwide Series races for JR Motorsports in the No. 5 Chevrolet this year. His most recent, at Daytona, was a victory. Of his eight career series wins, five have come on 1.5-mile tracks. His average finish in four races on 1.5-mile tracks with JR Motorsports is 4.5.

"I haven't had a lot of opportunities this year to drive the Saturday shows," Kahne said. "I wasn't doing anything this weekend, and I wanted to race. I knew by coming here, I'd have a good GreatClips Chevrolet and have another chance to drive a fast car and try to get a win. So ? (here) I am."

Yes, here Kahne is. And the Nationwide Series regulars are happy to see both Kahne and Larson at the 1.5-mile track on a sprawling piece of property surrounded by flat, green fields.

Chicagoland Speedway is about 50 miles southwest of the bright-lighted "Windy City," but the racing spotlight still reaches down this way. This week, that spotlight is affixed firmly onto the Nationwide regulars who have the track to themselves.

Being the Big Show is a situation these drivers covet -- especially as a night race broadcast on ESPN2 -- and having Larson and Kahne in the field gives the younger drivers, in particular, the competition they crave.

Chase Elliott, one of six drivers 20 years or younger in the field (he's 18), said this Nationwide-centric weekend was going to be "awesome."

Fellow 18-year-old Erik Jones, who will make his Nationwide Series debut in the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, used a similar youthful vernacular when discussing the weekend.

"It's cool," he said. "We do kind of have the spotlight for this weekend, and some more attention than we might normally get. At the same time, I have a chance to go up against the best guys in NASCAR right now in Kyle and Kasey, and that's really what I like about this weekend."

Taking circuits around the bumpy oval certainly won't hurt Larson's or Kahne's chances later this season, either. The Sprint Cup Series visits once per year, and it just happens to be for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup opener. 

Larson and Kahne will be back at the track for the Sept. 14 Cup event; in what fashion remains to be seen. 

"I don't think it hurts at all to be here," Kahne said. "We'll see what the track does at night, and hopefully I can learn some new things. That's our first race in the Chase, Chicagoland -- and hopefully we're in the Chase. We still have some work to do if we want to make it." 

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