Johnson, Larson stick around in playoff opener while Stenhouse, Newman flounder

Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway was not a barnburner. Far from it. NASCAR’s playoffs opened with a ho-hum affair that saw regular season champion Martin Truex Jr.  run away with an easy win and secure his berth in the Round of 12. Behind him, there were little surprises. Drivers expected to perform well and contend for deep playoff runs had good outings, while other longshots had forgettable days.

Coming off of his win at Richmond, playoff favorite Kyle Larson enjoyed what he called a “Quiet top five”, bringing his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet home in fifth position. Defending series champion and fellow heavyweight Jimmie Johnson also had a solid day, improving from a Summer slump to finish in eighth.

We weren’t very good in the beginning,” said Larson. “Just didn’t have the balance that I needed or really what I had in practice. Still a solid day for us to get some stage points and then finish top five heading into Loudon. Get some more solid finishes and advance to the next round, we should be OK.”

On the lack of action in the race, Johnson said that “The cars are all so equal — at least the guys from third or fourth on back, we are all so equal…If you could get by somebody on a restart, that was really about it. But for me, my car just really wanted to run the bottom of the racetrack.

“The higher I would go, the looser it would get. I knew there was a lot of real estate up there to try to take advantage of — I just couldn’t make it work and had to chase the bottom all day long.”

While Larson and Johnson finished towards the front of the field as expected, the same could not be said for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. or Ryan Newman. Both drivers languished outside of the Top 20, with Newman finishing 23rd and Stenhouse 25th. With two races left in the Round of 16, both drivers find themselves below the cutoff line for the next round.