JOLIET, Ill. - Kasey Kahne and Kyle Larson hope to learn something about Chicagoland Speedway this weekend.
Kahne and Larson, regulars in the Sprint Cup series, are driving in tonight's Nationwide Series race on the last off weekend for NASCAR'S top series this season. No other notables from the Cup circuit are on hand, even though the Chase begins at Chicagoland on Sept. 14.
"I don't think it hurts at all to be here," Kahne said. "It was either do this or go watch a sprint car race in Pennsylvania. You can learn a little bit. You can learn what the track does at night."
Kahne has finished third twice in Sprint Cup races at Chicagoland, but Larson, 21, is new to the big series. His best finish in a pair of Nationwide races here last year was 12th.
"The racing line changes here," Larson said before practice. "The extra track time should pay off."
Though both hoped to glean information for September, it may have paid off already. Larson was fifth, Kahne seventh in the afternoon practice session for the Enjoyillinois.com 300.
They'll be chasing Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler, who are 1-2 in the Nationwide standings and separated by only eight points. And that duo, along with Chris Buescher and Brian Scott, are also chasing a $100,000 bonus. The highest finisher of those four collects the prize, part of a four-weekend race within a race. Smith won the bonus last week in New Hampshire, even though he was 10th overall.
Sadler has won twice at Chicagoland. He and Smith tangled a year ago in the race before arriving here, and carried over their ill feelings. That feud seems to have simmered, but the prospect of the big bonus could ignite them anew.
"Any time you go for $100,000, it's a lot of fun," Sadler said. "To race for it at a track we've won at is great. We always seem to be in contention here."
Conversely, Smith's best finish in a Cup race on the 1.52-mile oval is 17th in 2011. He was 13th in the two Nationwide series races last year.
"It's about track position," Smith said. "I have to do a good job here, which I haven't done."
Brian Scott posted the fastest lap in the afternoon practice session, at 172.806 mph, with Buescher and Chase Elliott close behind. Sadler and Smith were 14th and 15th, respectively.
Qualifying for the race is Saturday afternoon.