By Pete Pistone
Bank of America 500 Preview
The Chase for the Sprint Cup reaches the halfway mark with Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But event though there are six full races left in the season, many are already conceding the championship to Jimmie Johnson.
After his win last Sunday in Kansas moved him to within three points of leader Carl Edwards, there is some sentiment NASCAR should simply do everyone a favor and engrave Johnson’s name on a sixth straight Sprint Cup trophy.
However Johnson is not buying any of it.
"We are happy where we are,” said Johnson. “But, I look at those first two races and still think about the points left on the table. I've said that a few times now. You just don't know what that point total is going to be at the end of the year and I hope I don't need the spots from Chicago and New Hampshire. But, where I want to be is on top. I think if somebody can sit on top of the points and lead and continue to lead, there's a small advantage in that. And, I want to be that guy. I want to be leading the points every week that I can."
Edwards is that guy leading the standings by one over Kevin Harvick heading into the weekend’s return trip to Charlotte. His come back fifth place finish in Kansas a week ago after falling back nearly two laps has given Edwards and the No. 99 team a solid shot of confidence coming into Saturday night’s race at a track where with the exception of last May’s All-Star Race win hasn’t been one of his best in recent years.
But Edwards plans on changing that this week and continue his quest to stay on top of the standings for as long as he can and not have to play catch up later on in the Chase.
"I want to have the biggest lead I can get,” Edwards said. “Right now, it's one point, but I'd like to leave here with a bigger lead and then have a little bit of insurance for that bad day that's inevitably gonna happen. You go to Talladega, Martinsville, the new Phoenix surface, I mean, nobody knows what's gonna happen and you need as many points as you can have so that you can absorb that bad day.
“We led the points for a bunch during the regular season, but we had some bad days that used up a ton of points. I think at one point we had a 40-point lead or something like that and one broken valve was all it took to wipe that away. So I'd much rather be out front."
So would Harvick, who returns to Charlotte after his win in May’s Coca-Cola 600.
Although he is only a point out of the lead, Harvick’s Chase hasn’t been easy including a rebound of his own at Kansas just to finish sixth.
"We’re exciting to come in here,” Harvick said. “Obviously the last race here ended well for us. The last three or four races we’ve run a lot better here than we have over the past several years so we feel like we’ve got a lot better starting spot than we did in the past for setups and things coming to today.
“It feels good. Hopefully we can have a good weekend and look forward to getting it done. The Chase has been a fight for us so far. We haven’t had everything exactly how we would have laid it out but I think the results haven’t been deadly for us I guess you can say too. So it’s been an experience but we’ll keep plugging away week by week."
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Track Size: 1.5-mile
Race Length: 500 miles
Banking/Corners: 5 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 10.4 degrees
2010 pole winner: Jeff Gordon (191.544 mph)
2010 race winner: Jamie McMurray (140.391 mph, 10-16-10)
Track qualifying record: Elliott Sadler (193.216 mph, 10-13-2005)
Race record: Bobby Labonte (151.952 mph, 5-28-95)
There have been 105 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, two races per year since the track opened in 1960. In 1961, there were two 100-mile qualifying points races held the week before the May race. The first six fall races at Charlotte were 400-mile events (1960-65).
38 drivers have posted poles, led by David Pearson with 14.
Fireball Roberts won the pole for the first race, in 1960.
David Pearson posted 11 straight poles at Charlotte from the fall of 1973 through 1978.
Ryan Newman leads all active drivers in poles, with nine. Jeff Gordon has eight.
Jeff Gordon won five straight poles for the spring races between 1994 and 1998.
44 drivers have won races, led by Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Jimmie Johnson, with six each.
Joe Lee Johnson won the first race, in 1960.
There have been 13 back-to-back victories, including three consecutive by Fred Lorenzen (fall 1964 and both 1965) and four straight by Jimmie Johnson (both in 2004 and 2005).
A sweep has occurred eight times, including each season from 2004-2007.
14 races have been won from the pole, the last by Jimmie Johnson (October, 2009).
Jimmie Johnson won the 2003 Coca-Cola 600 from the 37th starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.
Joey Logano is the only driver with more than two starts at Charlotte to average a top-10 finish (7.4).
A number of active drivers earned their first win at CMS: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and David Reutimann. Inactive drivers David Pearson, Buddy Baker and Charlie Glotzbach also got their first series wins at Charlotte.
Three Chase contenders earned their first career Coors Light poles at Charlotte: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman.
Who’s Hot at Charlotte
Jimmie Johnson – Has been waiting to flex his muscles and that time appears to have come. His win last week in Kansas carried Johnson to within three points of the Chase lead and given the 48 team momentum as the playoffs reach the midway point. Johnson may not own Charlotte like he did before the track was repaved but he’s still pretty darn good there with a win and a third in his last four starts.
Carl Edwards – Comes to Charlotte after a great come back performance Sunday in Kansas and with an All-Star win at the track back in May. Edwards has the confidence and swagger back that seemed to disappear late in the regular season and his intermediate track program is hitting on all cylinders.
Kasey Kahne – Charlotte has always been a Kahne favorite when he was with Ray Evernham’s team as well as Richard Petty Motorsports. He’s a three-time winner at the track and has been very impressive down the stretch in his waning days with Team Red Bull.
Juan Pablo Montoya – Will have his hands full trying to find a bright spot in a dismal season Saturday night in Charlotte, a track that has been a challenge for Montoya. A 25.9 average finish in nine career starts includes only a career best eighth place.
Paul Menard – Menard has hit a stretch of mediocrity after opening the season in impressive fashion. Has not fared particularly well at Charlotte during his Sprint Cup career with a 24.4 average finish and a 29th in May’s Coca-Cola 600.
A.J. Allmendinger – His fifth at Charlotte back in May was a highlight in what has been a difficult record for Allmendinger at the track. He has a 23.1 average finish in nine career starts with his Coca-Cola 600 effort the only Top 5 on his record.
Construction began on Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1959.
The track’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held on June 19, 1960.
The track was repaved midseason in 1994.
The track name changed from Charlotte Motor Speedway to Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 1999. It changed back to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the 2010 season.
The track was re-paved again before the 2006 season.
There have been 513 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in North Carolina.
425 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as North Carolina.There have been 44 race winners from North Carolina in NASCAR’s three national series; 28 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
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