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NASCAR at Chicago 2014: Race Schedule, Live Stream Info and Drivers to Watch

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 14, 2014

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 12:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 12, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

NASCAR's exciting postseason format begins Sunday in Chicago, as race one of 10 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup takes place with the MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

As the Chase begins, it's tough to decide who exactly is in the driver's seat, with more than a couple of standouts emerging throughout the season. Brad Keselowski made a late surge to take the points lead, but Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and more are lurking in contention. And, of course, six-time champ Jimmie Johnson is around as well.

With only 16 drivers remaining alive for the championship, more than half the field will be relegated to playing the spoiler. As we've seen in years past, drivers who fail to make the Chase can wreak havoc for those still contending for points.

Friday's qualifying events were canceled in the wake of heavy rain hitting Chicagoland, which made Kyle Busch the pole-sitter. Per a report from Reid Spencer of NASCAR.com, the rule book demands the fastest practice laps decide the qualifying order in the event of a rain delay. 

Let's break down the upcoming Chicagoland race that kicks off what is sure to be a thrilling NASCAR postseason.

When: Sunday, September 14, 2014

Where: Chicagoland Speedway, Chicago

Start Time: 2 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN (pre-race coverage begins 1 p.m. ET)

Live Stream: WatchESPN

2014 NASCAR at Chicago Sprint Cup Lineup
Pos.DriverCar No.Brand
1Kyle Busch18Toyota
2Ryan Newman31Chevrolet
3Carl Edwards99Ford
4Ricky Stenhouse Jr.17Ford
5Matt Kenseth20Toyota
6Clint Bowyer15Toyota
7Jimmie Johnson48Chevrolet
8Jeff Gordon24Chevrolet
9Paul Menard27Chevrolet
10Kyle Larson42Chevrolet
11Jamie McMurray1Chevrolet
12Kevin Harvick4Chevrolet
13Dale Earnhardt Jr.88Chevrolet
14Kurt Busch41Chevrolet
15Austin Dillon3Chevrolet
16Brian Vickers55Toyota
17AJ Allmendinger47Chevrolet
18Danica Patrick10Chevrolet
19Kasey Kahne5Chevrolet
20Greg Biffle16Ford
21Marcos Ambrose9Ford
22Tony Stewart14Chevrolet
23Aric Almirola43Ford
24Denny Hamlin11Toyota
25Brad Keselowski2Ford
NASCAR.com

Note: Only first 25 of 43 drivers listed. Full starting lineup found at NASCAR.com.

  

Drivers to Watch

Kyle Busch

Steve Helber/Associated Press

This Sprint Cup season hasn't quite gone as Kyle Busch had hoped, but he sits in eighth place entering the Chase and began making early moves indicative of a late-season surge Friday. With the fastest lap in practice, Busch won the pole after Friday's qualifying event was scrapped due to rain. The first lead of the Chase season will be his, even if it's short-lived.

There's no doubt that Busch could use some breaks after an up-and-down season. He won the Auto Club 400 in the fifth race of the season but has since struggled and sputtered to four straight finishes of 36th or worse—a streak he just recently broke two races ago.

Boasting a fast car in qualifying—or practice qualifying, if you will—can be a huge indicator of a driver's chances of victory, but Busch pumped the brakes and indicated the momentum must be carried.

"Having a good (speed) there in practice means a lot, but there's obviously a lot of things that need to happen in the race this weekend for us and getting off to a good start and being able to carry that into the next 10 weeks," he told The Associated Press' Jenna Fryer, via ABC News

Busch opened up the Chase last year with two second-place finishes, and starting out strong again will put him in position to contend with the likes of Gordon, Earnhardt and Keselowski later in the Chase.

Jeff Gordon

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, drives through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 5, 2014 in
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

If you want to make a case for the most impressive season that few saw coming this year, it has to be the season Jeff Gordon has had thus far.

He hasn't won a Sprint Cup championship since 2001, but you couldn't tell it by the season he has posted. His three victories on the season are tied for second-most among Sprint Cup contenders, and he has more top-10 finishes (17) than anybody.

Gordon has come a long way just in the past year. In 2013, he squeaked into the Chase with the 13th-place qualifying spot. This year, he led the standings for most of the year and enters the Chase in second.

This season is just different for Gordon's team, he admitted to The Baltimore Sun's Jack McCarthy.

"We haven't had a team like this since 2001," Gordon said. "In 2007 we were close, in 2004 we were close, but I don't really think we ever really had this kind of momentum, this kind of chemistry since we won the last (2001) championship. I'm real excited about our chances."

The 23-year racing career of Gordon's is already one of the greatest the sport has ever seen, but adding a fifth title in a new and incredibly competitive era of NASCAR would be a huge achievement. 

Starting in the No. 8 spot Sunday, the 43-year-old won't have to go far to reach the leaders. If his racing style this season is any indication, he should catch up to them in no time and be feared as much as any other driver.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 12:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 12, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois.
Sarah Glenn/Getty Images

It's already been a resurgent year for Dale Earnhardt Jr., no matter how it finishes. But anything other than a Sprint Cup championship for a driver of his pedigree will be a disappointment after the season he's had.

Earnhardt's three Sprint Cup victories are his most since his insane six-win season in 2004, but he has undergone some big-time struggles in the decade in between. He finished outside of the top 20 in points in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, only finishing in the top five twice in those nine seasons.

In 2014, it's been a different tune from the onset. Junior opened up the season with a resounding Daytona 500 victory and then posted two victories at Pocono to continue his momentum. He remains dangerous in the Chase standings, starting in third place just behind Gordon and Keselowski.

On Sunday, though, Earnhardt will have to battle to get in position with a 13th-place starting position. He shared some struggles he faced during practice on Twitter:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. @DaleJr

Practice 1: race trim, need to improve on front grip in turns 3-4. Qtrim, same thing. On a positive note turns 1-2 are working out nicely.

Junior will be 40 by the time the Chase is over with. While Gordon and a few others have defied age to race into their mid-40s, this may be the last serious chance he has to compete for a Sprint Cup title—something he has never won. 

 

Follow Steven Cook on Twitter for breaking news, analysis and musings on all things sports.

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