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Championship-eligible drivers who survived the first cutoff of the Chase are relieved. Chicagoland Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway brought drama, tempers and surprises that made everyone anxious.
As the start of a new round, the Bank of America 500 is up in the air. Who’s going to perform the best? Who will find hardships and fall behind? That’s what everyone is wondering going into Saturday night.
Charlotte Motor Speedway is a staple in the NASCAR world. Since 1960, the 1.5-mile oval has held 302 races, with 113 of them as NASCAR events. Its layout is the most common among the different types on the schedule, and there are four other 1.5-mile tracks in the Chase. CMS has been a stop on the Chase schedule since the format’s inception in 2004.
It’s also smack dab in the middle of racing country, as most teams are based around the Charlotte area. Fans tend to visit race shops before or after the Saturday night race. Whenever it’s race day in that town, the local economy spikes. Other businesses—such as Emma Blaney and Sherry Pollex’s respective boutiques—draw attention as noteworthy stops during the weekend. There’s no shortage of adventure in Charlotte, especially during race week.
As previously mentioned, the Challenger round brought excitement for many. Unfortunately, the first round didn’t go as planned for Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray.
Yes, you read that right: Jimmie Johnson.
With the six-time champion out of the picture, this fight for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series trophy just got even more interesting. Heavy-hitters like Kevin Harvick and the Joe Gibbs Racing bunch are making themselves known every weekend. Harvick, despite miscues in the first two races, won last weekend to advance. It’s unknown if he and crew chief Rodney Childers have regrouped, but they need to if they want to win another championship.
On the flip side, JGR is thriving—which is bad news for everyone else. The dominance for this weekend has already started; Matt Kenseth won the pole for the event, and teammate Kyle Busch will also be on the front row. All four drivers have experienced success at Charlotte and will be contenders come Saturday night.
There are seven other drivers still eligible, and they shouldn’t be counted out. Joey Logano has been a consistent force since winning the Daytona 500. Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. are silently staying in the game. Anyone can start knocking out wins and make themselves a threat to the title. That’s the purpose of this format, and it’s shaping up to be a thrilling seven weeks.
The Chase has become a cat and mouse game. The constant unpredictability and tension are running down the 12 drivers, who scurry away and try to find shelter. The slowest fall into the cat’s claws. Who escapes and gets the cheese? Nobody knows, and nobody will know until we finish at Homestead-Miami.