NASCAR Sprint Cup: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway weekend preview

It's finally time for the start of the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup. Over the next 10 weeks, the 16 drivers who qualified will be whittled down to just four finalists before the final race at Homestead.

NASCAR Sprint Cup: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway weekend preview
Some of the Chase drivers pose during media day on Thursday. (Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

After a long season, we have finally reached the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which will determine who the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is. Entering this weekend, there are 16 drivers who are eligible, led by Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski.

the 16 drivers had their overall points reset to 2,000 prior to the Chase, with each win in the regular season getting a driver three bonus points. Here is how the full Chase grid looks.

Kyle Busch - Leader

Brad Keselowski - Leader

Denny Hamlin - (-3)

Kevin Harvick - (-6)

Carl Edwards - (-6)

Martin Truex Jr. - (-6)

Matt Kenseth - (-6)

Jimmie Johnson (-6)

Joey Logano (-9)

Kyle Larson (-9)

Tony Stewart (-9)

Kurt Busch (-9)

Chris Buescher (-9)

Chase Elliott (-12)

Austin Dillon (-12)

Jamie McMurray - (-12)

Here is the weekend schedule, notebook, and Pick 'Em for this weekend's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.


Weekend Schedule (all times central)

Friday, Sept. 16

First Practice - 12:30 p.m. - 1:55 p.m.

Qualifying: 5:45 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 17

Second Practice - 9:30 a.m. - 10:25 a.m.

Final Practice - 12:30 p.m. - 1:20 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 18

Race - 1:30 p.m.


Weekend Notebook

- Defending race-winner, and last week’s race-winner, Denny Hamlin goes for his second straight victory in Sunday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Hamlin enters the race riding a career-high streak of eight top-10 finishes. In 10 career starts at Chicagoland, Hamlin has one win, two top fives, four top 10s and an average finish of 17.1.

- Tony Stewart gets to start his final Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at one of the two tracks where he has more wins than any other driver – Chicagoland Speedway (the other is Watkins Glen International). In 14 starts at Chicagoland, Stewart owns a track-record three wins, eight top fives and 10 top 10s. He also has a 101.2 driver rating, 10.6 average finish (third among active drivers) and a 10.6 average running position (sixth among active drivers). If he can record one more victory, Stewart would become the 13th 50-race winner in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.

- Already a NASCAR immortal, Jimmie Johnson can further cement his place among the greatest of greats by winning a seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship this year – an achievement that would tie him with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the most in history. Despite his track record, Johnson enters the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as a relative sleeper.

- On the year, he has two wins, seven top fives and 10 top 10s. If the season ended today, his 15.3 average finish would tie for the lowest of his career (2014). The No. 48 Chevrolet pilot leads all drivers with 26 total Chase wins. He is the only driver to make all 13 Chases since NASCAR first implemented the playoff format in 2004. Johnson has never won at Chicagoland Speedway, but owns the series-best driver rating (114.1) and average running position (7.3) there. He also claims seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes at the 1.5-mile track.

- The Chase has a youthful flavor to it this season with Chase Elliott (20), Kyle Larson (24), Chris Buescher (23) and Austin Dillon (26) all competing in their first-ever edition of NASCAR’s playoffs. Seasoned vet Joey Logano (26) is entering his fourth Chase. Elliott and Buescher join Denny Hamlin (2006) as the only Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders to ever make the Chase. Hamlin finished third in the final championship standings as a rookie.

- In addition, Larson is the first NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduate to make the Chase, and he and Elliott are the first grads of the NASCAR Next program to make the playoffs. Also noteworthy, Buescher has three over-the-wall crew members who are graduates of the NASCAR Diversity Pit Crew Program. As drivers who got into the Chase via points, Dillon and Elliott have some ground to make up since they each start the Chase three points out of the last transfer spot. Drivers get three bonus points for each win, giving Larson and Buescher three bonus points for the Round of 16 since they both visited Victory Lane once.


Pick Em

Standings

Mark Smith - 124 points

Stevie Larson - 104 points

Stephen Furst - 99 points

Picks

Smith 

Driver: Kevin Harvick

Reason: "The Stewart Haas Racing driver stated his intent to run well every race until the end of the season on Twitter last week before the race. Harvick will start that good run this weekend at Chicagoland and be the first driver to book his spot in the next round of the Chase."

Larson

Driver: Jimmie Johnson

Reason: "Johnson is a NASCAR legend, he is a six-time champion, but has not had his best season this year. Despite that, I believe that six-time will kick off the Chase with a big victory at Chicagoland this Sunday."

Furst

Driver: Kyle Larson

Reason: "Kyle Larson has been on a hot steak lately recording his first win and no less than a third place finish in last three races. Kyle has a bunch of momentum on his side with The Chase starting this weekend and he has expressed his love of many of the tracks included in this portion of the season because of their configuration, length and worn surfaces. We should expect another strong top 5 run out of Larson this week, if not win number two to lock in his position in the second round of The Chase."