Charlotte is supposed to have the most normal racing feeling during NASCAR’s Challenger Round.
It’s the racetrack sandwiched between two of the more unpredictable tracks. Kansas Speedway didn’t disappoint as the round’s opening race. Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all saw their races end prematurely and their championship dreams take a severe hit.
Those three are essentially in must-win scenarios and Charlotte provides the most stable race to do that. After all, the Challenger Round finale is at Talladega, where anything can and usually does happen.
Nobody wants to go to Talladega having to win. It’s a much better route to go there and simply try to avoid wreckage and post a respectable finish.
That’s why Kyle Busch couldn’t be more pleased with being the pole-sitter for Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He knows how nice it would be to go wire to wire and take the checkered flag.
“It would be perfect,” Busch said. “We would love to have that happen for us and for this team — for Joe Gibbs Racing, for Toyota and put all of us through and not have to worry about Talladega. First things first, you concentrate on having a good race and running a smart 500 miles here and get yourself in the top-10. If you do that, you shoot for a top-five, you do that and then you see if you can race those guys for a win and try to punch that ticket through.”
Jeff Gordon was just as happy with his qualifying run. He will start second. Gordon is in a dangerous position, too, since he’s eighth in the standings, the last spot to advance.
“Now we are off to a good start this weekend,” Gordon said. “We can come out of here with a really solid finish, if not a win. That makes Talladega hopefully a little bit easier.”
As far as the three who need to win, Earnhardt Jr. had a decent run and will start ninth, while Keselowski is 17th.
The real worry, however, is on Johnson, the six-time champ. He starts 21st and appears to have his hopes hanging by a thread.
“It’s disappointing,” said Johnson, who won at Charlotte in May, his seventh career win at the track.
“There’s no way around it.”
Kyle Busch. How can you go against this guy? He’s one of the hottest drivers right now, finishing third last week and taking the pole this week. He has never won at Charlotte, but this might be the year he finally does.
Kevin Harvick. He’s got a decent starting position, seventh, and a history of success at Charlotte. He’s a two-time winner with four top-fives and 10 top-10s.
Two dark horses
Matt Kenseth. He won seven races last season but has yet to find Victory Lane this year. It seems as though his time has to come at some point and maybe it’s this weekend, a track at which he has two wins and 16 top-10 runs.
Kasey Kahne. He’s starting 19th and has been living on the edge ever since making the Chase field. But he has an impressive track record at Charlotte, so it’s hard to count him out. Kahne has four career wins at this track with an average finish of 11.5.
“No question about it. Obviously, I don’t count any of those guys out because when you look at the guys that are out right now, they’ve all performed amazing at this racetrack and they’re going to be up front come Saturday night. We would love to see them eliminated because they are our biggest threats going forward. If they’re eliminated then you don’t have to beat them. Definitely the road to the championship gets much easier when those type of guys are eliminated early.” — Denny Hamlin on if he’d like to see Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. and Keselowski eliminated this round
8Ryan Newman believes his team needs an eighth-place finish at Charlotte to put themselves in good position to advance. Said Newman: “Everybody needs to win. But you do the math … there’s eight slots that are open and three races. So that means three winners potentially at most. But there will be five guys who get in on points. Consistency needs to be there.”
|11.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||3,006|
|Tonight||Charlotte Motor Sp.|
|Nov. 2||Texas Motor Speedway|
|Nov. 9||Phoenix International|