The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Chicagoland Speedway this weekend for the first race of the 2017 Playoffs. Sixteen drivers will compete for the title and it all begins in Chicago.
Win and automatically advance to the next round. There are four rounds, each consisting of three races. Four drivers will be eliminated at the end of each round leaving four contenders to battle for the championship crown at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
The first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Chicagoland Speedway was held on July 15, 2001, and was won by Kevin Harvick. There have been 16 Cup races at the 1.5-miles track with 12 different winners. Stewart leads the series with three victories at Chicago. Harvick and Keselowski lead all active drivers with two wins each. But did you know that Stewart, Harvick and Keselowski are the only drivers with multiple wins at Chicago?
Chicagoland Speedway has hosted the opening race of the Playoffs since 2011. From 2004-2010 the first race of the Playoffs was held at New Hampshire. Five different drivers have won the Chicago Playoff race including Martin Truex Jr. (2016), Denny Hamlin (2015), Brad Keselowski 2014, 2012), Matt Kenseth (2013) and Tony Stewart (2011).
But, did you know that three drivers who have won the opening playoff race have gone on to win the championship? In 2004 Kurt Busch won the opener at New Hampshire in the inaugural “Chase for the Championship” and also won the year-end title. Keselowski won the playoff race at Chicago in 2012 and continued on to win the championship crown.
In 2011 Stewart won his first race of the season at the opening playoff race in Chicago and captured four more victories that year, setting the record for the most wins (five) in the postseason playoffs. Stewart capped off the season with his third championship title. But did you know that the opening race of the Cup Series Playoffs has never been won by a non-playoff driver?
Truex, the regular season champion, is the defending race winner while Chase Elliott, who is searching for his first Cup Series victory, has the series-best driver rating of 129.1.
When asked about the importance of winning during the playoffs, Elliott said, “I’d love to advance as far as we can, but I’d love a win. That’s what we’re here to do. We’ve had a year and a half to do it, and haven’t. I take a lot of pride in wanting to win. I also have these last 10 races still driving the 24 car, which it’s been a cool honor to have that. It would mean a lot to me to add to the win list that Jeff has created with that car over the years while I still have the chance. I think that’s an obligation of mine, to try to achieve that. That’s on my priority list. I’d love to win, but I’d love to advance through the Playoffs. I think if you do one, you’re going to have a shot to do the other.”
Jimmie Johnson has the second-best rating (114.7) followed by Kyle Busch (106.0), Kenseth (102.3) and Keselowski (99.7), to round out the top-five.
But did you know that out of the top-10 competitors at this track, Joey Logano is the only non-playoff driver? Logano’s win at Richmond Raceway on April 30 was deemed encumbered due to an issue with the rear suspension, costing him a spot in the playoffs. His last chance for another victory was, ironically, at Richmond Sept. 9, where he finished second.
After the race, Logano said, “This is the test of our character, not only as a driver but as a team and the way we handle these next 10 races. We don’t want to roll over. We want to help our teammates try to win a championship, and ultimately we want to win 10 races. That’s what the goal is at this point. It may be the end of our championship run this year, but it’s not the end of our season.”
As the Playoffs kick off this weekend, expect the intensity to build as the top 16 vie for a victory to propel them into the next round while non-playoff drivers like Logano, attempt to steal a victory.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on-track action begins Friday with the first practice at 12:30 p.m. ET and qualifying at 6:45 p.m. ET. The Tales of the Turtles 400 closes out the weekend Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
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