Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Up to Speed: Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicago Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

After 26 regular season races to set the 16-driver field, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Chicagoland Speedway for the opening salvo of the playoffs and Sunday’s 17th annual running of the Tales of the Turtles 400.

As one of the newer tracks on the circuit, having joined in 2001, the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway finds itself front and center as the playoffs begin. The track, which only hosts the Cup Series once each season, boasts banking of 18 degrees as well as a curved back straightaway that allows drivers to carry their momentum around the entirety of the track. Having not been repaved in its 17-year history, the track also allows for racing from the bottom groove all the way up to the top of the track, making for great racing for the lead at times.

While all 43 drivers will have an opportunity to battle for the race win, the reality is that all eyes will be on the 16 playoff contenders as a slip in this opening race at Chicago could spell doom in their hopes of moving on to the next round after Dover in two weeks.

By the Numbers

What: Tales of the Turtles 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 27 of 36

Where: Chicagoland Speedway – Joliet, Illinois (Opened: 2001)

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 3:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.5-mile tri-oval

Banking: 18 degrees (turns); 11 degrees (front); 5 degrees (back)

Race Length: 267 laps, 400.5 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages – 80 laps, Final stage – 107 laps

2016 Race Winner:  Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota (Started sixth – 32 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Joey Logano – 28.509 seconds – 189.414 mph – 9/13/2013

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Chicagoland Speedway:

  • Chase Elliott – No. 24 Chevrolet – 129.1 – Best finish: third
  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 114.7 – Best finish: second
  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 106.0 – 1 win
  • Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 102.3 – 1 win
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 99.7 – 2 wins
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 96.9 – 2 wins
  • Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 94.9 – Best finish: third
  • Ryan Blaney – No. 21 Ford – 91.9 – Best finish: fourth
  • Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 91.3 – 1 win
  • Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 90.0 – Best finish: second

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings

  1. Martin Truex, Jr. – 2053 points
  2. Kyle Larson (-20)
  3. Kyle Busch (-24)
  4. Brad Keselowski (-34)
  5. Jimmie Johnson (-36)
  6. Kevin Harvick (-38)
  7. Denny Hamlin (-40)
  8. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (-43)
  9. Ryan Blaney (-45)
  10. Chase Elliott (-47)
  11. Ryan Newman (-48)
  12. Kurt Busch (-48)
  13. Kasey Kahne (-48)
  14. Austin Dillon (-48)
  15. Matt Kenseth (-48)
  16. Jamie McMurray (-50)

From the Driver’s Seat

“Chicagoland is one of the oldest surfaces we go to now,” said Paul Menard. “It has a lot of character, a lot of bumps, and it’s really hard on tires. As a race car driver, those are all things you love. It’s a great racetrack. It’s really wide. It lays down rubber and you pick up the rubber under cautions. There are a lot of different elements you have to factor in as you prepare to race there.”

Last Time at Chicago

Chase Elliott looked to be in the catbird seat and on the way to his first Cup Series win in the playoff opener last season, finding himself up front for 75 laps late in the going, but a caution with five laps to go would push the race into overtime and change everything.

Under the caution, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne, and Carl Edwards all stayed out, while Martin Truex, Jr. won the race off of pit road with fresh tires just ahead of Elliott. On the ensuing restart, that one position would make a world of difference as Truex was able to rocket around the outside into the lead while Elliott was boxed in on the bottom and couldn’t make any headway.

Truex would lead the final two laps and score his first win at Chicago, clinching an automatic advancement into the Round of 12. Joey Logano, Elliott, Blaney, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.

“Oh my goodness, I guess the racing gods don’t want us to lead too much,” said Truex. “What can I say about everyone at Furniture Row Racing, Toyota, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Bass Pro Shops, Denver Mattresses – just everybody that makes this possible – Sprint, the fans have given us a ton of support, not only over the years but the last two has definitely helped us. This feels good.”

“We have more races to win – the more we can win the better. What can I say? There are so many people who are responsible for this and I’m glad I get to drive this 78 with Cole Pearn (crew chief) and everybody on this team. Barney (Visser, owner) gives us everything we need. Thanks to TRD – the engines were incredible again – Andy Graves (TRD vice president) and those guys are doing a heck of a job. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) builds our chassis and we have competition meetings with them and all that stuff has been an awesome relationship. What can I say – this is how we want to start off. This feels awesome.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, September 15

  • MENCS Practice (12:30 pm to 1:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Qualifying (6:45 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, September 16

  • MENCS Practice (11:30 am to 12:20 pm – CNBC)
  • MENCS Final Practice (2:00 pm to 2:50 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, September 17

  • MENCS Tales of the Turtles 400 (3:00 pm – 267 laps, 400.5 miles – NBC Sports Network)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.