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Y! Sports picks: Geico 400

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Track Facts

Venue: Chicagoland Speedway
Race length: 401 miles
No. of laps: 267
Qualifying: Sat., 1:30 p.m. ET
Race: Sun., 2:16 p.m. ET (ESPN)
STAT OF THE WEEK
Fast start? Only twice (in 2004 and 2011) has the winner of the opening race in the Chase gone on to win the championship.
LAST YEAR'S RACE
Top 5
1. Tony Stewart
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
4. Carl Edwards
5. Brad Keselowski
RECENT WINNERS
2011: Tony Stewart
2010: David Reutimann
2009: Mark Martin
2008: Kyle Busch
2007: Tony Stewart
2006: Jeff Gordon
2005: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2004: Tony Stewart
2003: Ryan Newman
2002: Kevin Harvick
ALSO THIS WEEKEND:
Nationwide Series
Dollar General 300 Powered by Coca-Cola, Chicagoland Speedway, Sat., 3:46 p.m .

EXPERT STANDINGS
NOTE: Jay Hart ended the regular season with 816 points, followed by Jay Busbee with 775 and Nick Bromberg with 755.
Hart:  2012 points (4 wins)
Busbee:  2006 points (2 wins)
Bromberg:  2003 points (1 win)
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Chicagoland preview (PDF)

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Chicagoland Speedway for Sunday's Geico 400.

Tony Stewart is the defending race winner.

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Who Will Win?

Brad Keselowski: Going with @Kes for two reasons: First, he seems to have a flare for the dramatic, and coming out and making a statement in Race No. 1 of the Chase certainly would be dramatic. Two, he won at Kansas earlier this year, a track very similar to Chicagoland. – Jay Hart

Kevin Harvick: It's been a down year for Happy, that whole fatherhood thing excepted. He's in the Chase, yes, but he's nowhere near the prominence he's had the last couple years. But his recent Nationwide performances have people paying attention, and this is the weekend it all comes together for him in the Sprint Cup series. – Jay Busbee

Jimmie Johnson: What better way to start off the sprint to a sixth title than with a win at Chicagoland. And did you know that every year that Chicago has been the first race of the Chase, the eventual Sprint Cup series winner has won the race? OK, yeah, this is only the second time that Chicagoland has been the Chase kickoff, but if you subtract JJ's crash at Atlanta (where he was running well), his lowest finish at a 1.5-mile track this season is 11th. – Nick Bromberg

Who will win the Chase?

Jimmie Johnson: Vader is going to get title number six, and it's going to be by virtue of his performance at those intermediate tracks throughout 2012 so far. Of course, this pick is counting on the fact that the new NASCAR rule to limit steer in the rear of the car doesn't impact Johnson, but Chad Knaus is still his crew chief. He's probably already got a great intermediate-track package to massage that fits the new rules. – Nick Bromberg

Jimmie Johnson: Here's a number for you: 5. That's how many DNFs Double J had during the regular season and still he wound up third in the standings. How did he pull that off? By posting more top 5s than anyone, leading the most laps and winning three races. I picked him prior to the season because I figured he'd be gunning for some revenge after having his five-year winning streak snapped; all he's done in the first 26 races is reinforce that. – Jay Hart

Jimmie Johnson: Look, I know we're not supposed to root for or against anybody. But we are supposed to want a good story, and there are exactly 11 better stories than Jimmie Johnson winning another Chase. That said, is there anybody right now who's got the team, the skill and the mentality to challenge the 48? It won't be easy and it's not guaranteed, but Johnson is the odds-on favorite to get his sixth Cup. – Jay Busbee

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Top Storyline

Starting fast is essential in the Chase; you can't give a guy like Johnson even a 10-point edge early in the season. Expect several teams to be racing the 48 if they can't race for the win; you know that Jimmie Johnson will be there in the mix at Homestead when it's all said and done. Drivers can afford maybe one rotten Chase race; the trick is not using up your mulligan in the Windy City. – Jay Busbee

Last year at Chicago, eight Chasers finished in the top 10. The four that didn't were never factors in the title race. Heck, Denny Hamlin finished 31st and he was almost a full race out of the points lead after just one race. Yeah, we've seen drivers bounce back from a poor first Chase race before, but that's obviously not the preferred strategy. It wouldn't be a stunner to see most of the Chase field in the top 15, and you can probably eliminate anyone who has a bad finish Sunday, especially if it's a driver starting the Chase with no bonus points. – Nick Bromberg

Jeff Gordon is the wildcard in this Chase – literally and figuratively. He got in via a wild-card berth, but now that he has the question is if he can win it all. No one is hotter entering the Chase – 3rd, 2nd, 2nd coming in. Will he keep up that momentum? If he does, the drive for five may just be alive. – Jay Hart

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FROM THE SOURCE

"I won't treat [the Chase] any differently [than in 2010 when he lost the championship] about the way I drive. I think I'll be a little bit more aggressive on restarts and not give up those one or two points when they really, really count. That will change, but for the most part I think I'll just be a lot more relaxed this time around." – Denny Hamlin

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