The Backstretch Blog's Race Day: Sweet 16


Let's be honest, this is not the 16 drivers we expected to get in the NASCAR Playoffs. If you had Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr and Ryan Newman it's time to quit your job and move to Vegas. Yet this is the field, so let the postseason begin.

This week NASCAR opens the postseason at the Chicagoland Speedway (which is actully in Joliet, and hour south of Chicago, but I digress). This is the final year Chiagoland will be the playoff opener, next race this track moves to a date in July and the aforementioned Las Vegas gets the first race of the postseason.

"I love Chicago," said Dillon, who is the 14th seed in the playoffs. "It's got some character with the bumps. You can really run hard, the way the exit of Turn 2 is, how the backstretch never kind of quits turning, I really enjoy the angles of the track and how you can arch and find speed all over it."

Eight former Chicagoland winners are in this afternoon's race, including seven former winners that are in the NASCAR Playoffs (the only non-playoff driver with a win there is Dale Earnhardt Jr.). This is also, by the way one of only three races where Jimmie Johnson has never won.

"I am confident going into these next 10 races, that the 'slump' is over," says Johnson, who is the fifth seed in the playoffs. "No one steps up to the challenge better than my No. 48 Lowe's team. I'm looking forward to Chicago, we had a great test there, and I've always wanted to give Chad a win at his home track."

Leading everyone to the green will be Kyle Busch, who won the pole on Friday. He also has a win at Chicagoland back in 2008.

"At Chicago, we ran really well there in '08 and, unfortunately, '09, '10 and '11 we kind of a struggled," said Busch. "The last several years we ran well there but didn't always get the finishes we deserved for how well we ran. We had a really solid top-five run going the last two years."

Joining Busch up front in row one will be his teammate Denny Hamlin, with Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top five starters.

Tennessee native Trevor Bayne will start 26th.

"Chicago is definitely a fun track to race on." said Bayne. 'You can run up by the wall if you want, or you can hug that white line on the bottom. It's a place I've always enjoyed racing at. Hopefully we can unload a great Performance Plus Ford this weekend and work our way up front and contend for the win on Sunday."

The green flag is set to drop on the 'Tales of the Turtles 400' at 3:16pm. You can watch the race on NBCSN.

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