Friday, October 15, 2010

Chase Coverage: Charlotte Motor Speedway Preview

The Chase for the Sprint Cup reaches its half-way point as we head to NASCAR's backyard, Charlotte, for the fifth race of the playoffs. The only night race in the Chase, Charlotte Motor Speedway will see the 12 Chase drivers battling to keep their championship hopes alive under the lights.

In Thursday's qualifying session, five of the top 10 drivers are in the Chase, led by four-time champion Jeff Gordon. See where they qualified here.

Twelve of our contributors look at the Chasers' chances for Saturday's Bank of America 500. Check back Tuesday to see our recaps from Charlotte.

1. Jimmie Johnson – Leader – Rebecca Kivak
For the third year in a row Jimmie Johnson leads the Chase points standings going into Charlotte Motor Speedway, arguably his best track on the NASCAR circuit. Johnson has had so much success at Charlotte that many refer to the track as "Jimmie Johnson's house." The four-time champion is tied with 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for most wins - six - at the 1.5-mile oval. This means Johnson has won 33 percent of the 18 races he's entered at Charlotte.

In 2004 and 2005, Johnson and the No. 48 Lowes team had a stranglehold on the track, winning all four Cup events in that time period, then finishing second at both of the 2006 races. Johnson wouldn't find victory lane again at Charlotte until last year's fall Chase race. He has led 1,370 laps here and has collected nine top 5s, 13 top 10s and three poles. Johnson's driver rating of 115.3 at Charlotte is the best in the series. His average finish of 10.2 is the highest among Chase drivers.

In May's Coca-Cola 600, Johnson suffered a 37th-place finish after his racecar got loose on turn 2 and he hit the inside and outside walls, sustaining major damage. Starting 10th in Saturday's Bank of America 500, Johnson and the No. 48 team will do everything they can to defend their victory from a year ago, put a disappointing Coca-Cola 600 behind them and add to their 36-point buffer over Denny Hamlin.

2. Denny Hamlin – (-36) – Holly Machuga
Denny Hamlin goes into Charlotte Motor Speedway this week second in points. He fell behind two weeks ago with a 12th-place finish at Kansas, but had a decent run at Fontana last weekend, finishing eighth. Both tracks are a challenge for Hamlin, but with the help of his team, they were able to work their way through it.

Denny has 10 starts at Charlotte, which has proven to be a tough track for the No. 11 team also. In those 10 starts, Denny has three top-10s and no top-5s. No wins have been earned. He has an average start of 15.1 and an average finish of 18.5 with one DNF due to an engine problem.

Hamlin has said that he is not concerned with the 36-point cushion that Jimmie Johnson has over him. His goal in the remaining races? To have all top-10s, preferably top-5s with some wins to get those coveted 10 bonus points, and to lead some more laps (he has led 918 all season with his six wins).

There has been no talk of his ACL problem that was supposed to have affected his driving early on in the season, but brought him multiple wins in reality. He seems to be keeping his chin up and taking care of his medical issues silently.

The No. 11 FedEx team and Denny Hamlin are still pursuing the championship. They have not given up and will not let Jimmie Johnson take his fifth championship without some pressure and a fight.

3. Kevin Harvick – (-54) – Amber Arnold
Charlotte Motor Speedway is another bump in the road for Kevin Harvick. While it’s not his best track, it’s not his worst either.

In 19 races at CMS, formerly Lowe’s Motor Speedway, Harvick has no wins or poles. He has just one top 5 and three top 10s along with one DNF. His average finish at the 1.5-mile track is 20.7. 

Harvick and the 29 team are definitely going to have to up their game this weekend if they hope to keep their championship hopes alive. They are just 54 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, and just 18 points out from taking over second place. In a Chase which has been deemed the closest it’s ever been, clearly anyone currently out of the top 5 has a tall order on their hands to be able to hoist the championship trophy at Homestead.

4. Jeff Gordon – (-85) – Genevieve Cadorette
Jeff Gordon finished in 33rd place in practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday afternoon, but a few short hours later during qualifying, Gordon won his first pole of the season. This is also his 69th career pole, tying him with Cale Yarborough. Gordon has won at least one pole a season for 20 consecutive years. If you factor in his 12 Nationwide wins, he now has 81 poles.

Gordon told the press that he was surprised to have won (the pole). In response to last week’s speeding penalty, he takes the blame and says a “ninth-place finish isn’t good enough; it never is. Won’t say must win, but gotta be closer to the front.”

Other interesting stats for Gordon at Charlotte are that he’s won five times; finished in the top five 16 times and finished in the top ten 20 times. He’s driven a total of 2,154 miles in the top 15.

Gordon’s goal for the Chase this season was to stay in the lead, and he’s been doing just that. 

5. Tony Stewart – (-107) – Unique Hiram
Headed into an evening race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday (Bank of America 500), Tony Stewart and the #14 Office Depot/Old Spice race team definitely have momentum on their side. For the past two Chase races, they have successfully captured a top-5 finish and a win respectively. Currently, this driver and team have climbed to 5th in points standings and they are looking to move up even further to compete for that coveted trophy at Homestead.

In a recent interview, Stewart was asked about the driving skills and methods that need to be taken in order to be successful in getting around Charlotte Motor Speedway, otherwise known as “The Beast of the Southeast,” and he had this to say: “It always seems like it’s a battle of trying to get your car to cut through the center of the corner and keep the forward drive in it. It seems like it’s a sacrifice of one or the other, but the two ends of the track are different. It seems like you can carry a lot more speed through (turns) one and two, and (turns) three and four are little more thread-the-needle-type corners. Sometimes there isn’t a big difference between the fall and spring races at Charlotte. They’re spread out so far and they’re at the beginning of summer and the end of summer, so a lot of times they can be very similar.”

The statistics for Stewart at this track include one win, six top 5s, 11 top 10s, 596 laps led, an average start of 14.6 and an average finish of 13.4. Although these statistics may not seem as competitive as some of the other Chase drivers, it is quite evident that Stewart and the #14 Office Depot/Old Spice team are definitely on a focused mission to make it all the way to the top spot in the Chase points standings.

6. Kurt Busch – (-140) – Katy Lindamood
Seven drivers have won both the All-Star Race followed by the 600-mile race at Charlotte, but no driver has ever completed a clean sweep of all three races at the North Carolina speedway. This Saturday, Kurt Busch hopes to be the first to accomplish the feat and kick his drive for a second Cup title into overdrive, but it won’t be easy. Busch, who finally conquered Charlotte this season, has had difficulties finishing strong in the Chase races so far in 2010. Up to this point Busch has collected two 13th-place finishes, a fourth place and a 21st-place finish in the four Chase events.

In 20 races in Charlotte, Busch has an average finish of 20, with one win (two if count All-Star), four top-5s, and five top-10s. Busch has lead a total of 492 laps at the track.

Busch will start Saturday’s race from 15th position and will be keeping his eye on the finish line. As he said in this interview, it’s free beer for life if he wins the Chase. That will go nicely with the million dollars he won back in May.

7. Carl Edwards – (-162) – Amada Ebersole
For Carl Edwards and team, this weekend’s race is a time to rally their efforts towards the ultimate goal of dethroning Jimmie Johnson as the Sprint Cup champion. We head towards the home track of NASCAR, Charlotte Motor Speedway, a 1.5-mile track that is centered in the midst of all the race shops, drivers' homes and more importantly crew members’ homes. Teams always look forward to racing at Charlotte because that means they are able to sleep in their own beds. Also key to Charlotte’s race is a chance for the crew who work in the shop, who never get to travel, to be able to come to the track and support their teams … all said, Charlotte is a great race for the teams.

Carl Edwards has 11 previous starts at Charlotte and in those races he has four top 5s, seven top 10s and his best finish was two third-place finishes in 2005 and again in 2006. Carl has also led 34 laps in those races.

Crew chief Bob Osborne is bringing a new chassis to the race and expects good things. “We’re taking a new car to Charlotte that should be very competitive. We need a good run to keep our Chase hopes alive. We had a little setback in California last weekend, but this team is strong enough to overcome one bad race.”

As for Carl, don’t count him out yet either. “Now we’ve got six races left to run the way we know we can run. If we can get a couple wins and a couple solid top 5s, and maybe if Jimmie (Johnson) can have a bit of trouble then it can be anybody’s race. We need to rally this weekend at Charlotte."

8. Jeff Burton – (-177) – Genna Short
It’s been a long time since Jeff Burton’s last win - 71 races to be exact. In fact, Burton’s last win came here at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the fall of 2008. He won the race from a fourth-place starting position after leading 58 of the 334 laps run that day - the least amount of laps he’d led in any of his three wins at Charlotte.

In 33 starts at the 1.5 mile quad-oval track, Burton has eight top 5s and 15 top-10 finishes. However, he still has not had a top 10 in the last three races since his 2008 victory here. Even so, Burton is very confident that he can post that top 5 or possibly drive the 31 car to victory again this weekend.

“It's been a good race track for us- we typically run well there,” Burton stated in an interview posted on wwwRCRRacing.com.

“Even though we haven't won there recently, we feel like it's a good racetrack for us, a solid racetrack for us. It's a very difficult racetrack - but we feel like that's a good racetrack for us.”

Even if the 31 car hasn’t posted as much as a top-10 finish at Charlotte since 2008, Burton seems very satisfied with their chances of posting a good finish or a win here this weekend.

9. Kyle Busch – (-187) – Lindi Bess
kyle in blueAs we move into Charlotte for the Bank of America 500, it marks the halfway point of the Chase. Lets look back at Kyle’s stats for the 2010 Season.

2010 Stats
  • 3 wins
  • 8 top 5s
  • 16 top 10s
  • 2 poles
Kyle has had an average finish of 13.2 and led a total of 16 races for 1,028 laps. His season-to-date driver rating in the #18 M&M’s Toyota Camry is a 97.6.

There are five out of 12 Chase drivers qualified in the top 10 for Saturday’s Bank of America 500. Kyle is one of those drivers, qualifying sixth on Friday with a speed of 190.644, and 0.133 behind pole sitter #24 Jeff Gordon.

Career History @ Charlotte: His history at Charlotte looks like this: four top 5s, seven top 10s and one pole. He carries an average finish of 17.8 in the last 13 races. Kyle does carry a average running position of 10.9, which is third-best. He has the second-best driver rating at 104.9. Sitting at 77%, in 2nd, he has spent 3,005 laps in the Top 15. He does boast an average green flag speed, considered 2nd fastest, of 175.557.
As a driver of #18 for JGR, this M&M’s Toyota has completed five races at CMS. Of these races he has one pole, four top 5s and five top 10s.

This #18 M&M’s Camry is facing a near impossible battle to get themselves back into the Chase. To those who state it's impossible, I only ask that you look at the first four races of the Chase in regards to the movement each race has produced. Stranger things have happened.

10. Greg Biffle – (-215) – Stacie Ball
Going into the fifth race in the Chase, this is what I would call homecoming weekend for the sport of NASCAR, with the only night race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Here Biffle has two top 5s along with five top 10s, only leading 43 of 4585 laps. What kind of racing will get him back into the Chase once the engine blew up at Auto Club Speedway?

Biffle said regarding the race Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the No. 16 Scotch Blue 3M Ford Fusion, “Well, we’re going to just go out and do our best the rest of the season pretty much like we have all year. We will still go out there every week and try to get the No. 16 3M Ford into victory lane and gain as many positions in the points as we can. This is our last night race of the season and it would obviously be awesome to win in Charlotte. We had a good run during the Coke 600 before I got loose and hit the wall. I feel pretty confident that we should have a good run this weekend with the way we’ve been running at the mile-and-a-half tracks.”

Crew chief Greg Erwin on what it will take to get back into the Chase, after the three of the four races so far: “We’re taking a brand new car to the track this weekend and we feel pretty good about the latest cars we’ve been building here at Roush Fenway. We’ve had some decent runs at Charlotte over the last few years and I know this team is as determined as ever to get to victory lane a few more times before the end of this season. If we can get the car to handle well throughout the race as the track changes, I think we’ve got a good chance of running up front and contending for another win.”

As the only night race in the playoffs as well as homecoming weekend for NASCAR, what else could make it any better? For Biffle, Erwin, the Pit Bulls and Roush Fenway, a win this weekend would definitely get the smile of these guys back on track before going to Martinsville, Talladega and the rest of the tracks in the Chase! 

11. Matt Kenseth – (-241) – Whitney Richards
Matt Kenseth and his crew will head to Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend looking to improve from last weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway, where mechanical failures left him finishing 30th. Kenseth’s first career Cup Series win came at Charlotte on May 28, 2000. So far, that is his only win at the 1.5-mile speedway, but he has accumulated six top-5 finishes and 11 top-10 finishes.
In 22 starts, Kenseth has an average starting position of 18.9 and an average finishing position of 15.4 at Charlotte. Kenseth has completed 7,236 of 7,782 laps and has led 305 laps at the track. He has a driver rating of 89.1, which is sixth-best at Charlotte. This weekend, the team is bringing chassis RK-694 to the track. The car was last run at Atlanta , where Kenseth finished 11th. He will be driving the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion for the Bank of America 500 on Saturday night.
Kenseth comes to Charlotte 11th in the standings, 241 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
12. Clint Bowyer (-247) – Amy McHargue
Clint Bowyer is coming to Charlotte in the same condition that he arrived to last week's race – in 12th place in points with nothing to lose. 247 points back, Clint is coming off of a runner-up performance in Fontana and wants to repeat that performance. If Bowyer is to make it into the top five again on Saturday night, he will have to dig deep. Charlotte is not one of Clint's best tracks; he posts a 17.7 average finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway and has finished in the top 10 in 33 percent of his nine Cup starts at the facility.

The most success Bowyer has seen at CMS came in 2007 when he finished second. The past two races in North Carolina have rewarded the #33 Richard Childress Racing team with sixth- and seventh-place finishes. Clint may have the momentum to drive to the front on Saturday night and in doing so could move into 11th place in the championship points standings – he is just six points behind. Bowyer and his team need to put together more solid runs like last week to get to the front of the field Saturday. Clint's thoughts after Fontana may sum it up best: “We're capable of winning races, and if we keep doing what we did today, we're going to win another one.” 

2 comments :

This is a great image of the Speedway. Who took it?

I too am a female race fan. I am writing a children's ABC book with racing and cars. I would love to use your Charlotte Motor Speedway image. Please email me at queenamy@cox.net so I can send you the paperwork.

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