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NASCAR Banking 500 Preview

by Dave Grayson
Friday, October 16, 2009

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Can anyone really beat the combination of Chad Knaus (L) and Jimmie Johnson (R) and their Lowe's sponsorship at Lowe's Motor Speedway?
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship switches gears to night time racing this Saturday at the Lowes Motor Speedway in Charlotte-North Carolina. The NASCAR Banking 500, presented by Bank Of America, is race number five on the Chase schedule. By the time the race is over we should have an increasingly clear picture as to who the true players in the Chase are going to be before it moves to the second half of the ten race schedule.

JOHNSON AND HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS SERVE NOTICE AGAIN

When Jimmie Johnson left California, and the Auto Club Speedway's victory lane, last Sunday everyone said "look out he's in his championship mode." Some even went so far as to call him "Superman." Anyone who doubts this needs to look at Thursday's practice and qualifying charts from the Lowes Motor Speedway. Johnson, his Lowes #48 Chevrolet and his Chad Knaus led Hendrick Motorsports team served the competition notice again.

At the conclusion of the practice session Johnson was on top of the speed charts after ripping off a lap of 192.486 MPH. Then he matched that effort during Coors Light qualifying with a lap of 28.070/192.376 MPH. It's Johnson's third pole of 2009 and the 22nd fast time of his career. It also marks the fastest qualifying time for NASCAR's new race car since it's inception.

Johnson goes into Saturday night's race as the Chase points leader but it's only a slim lead of 12 points over team mate Mark Martin. By the way guess who's joining Johnson on the front row of Saturday night's race? That right. Mark "The Kid" Martin ripped off a qualifying lap of 28.152/191.846 MPH to create a Hendrick Motorsports front row.

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Also very impressive in Thursday's qualifying was Mike Bliss driving the #71 Taxslayer Dot Com/TRG Chevrolet. The team arrived at the Lowes Motor Speedway 37th in owners points meaning they had no guaranteed starting berth and had to  find a way to make the race on the car's qualifying speed. Bliss, who is the third driver for the team this season, hit a lap of 190.409 MPH which was good enough to earn the seventh starting spot in what turned out to be one of the big surprises of the afternoon.

The Kevin Buckler owned team represents the true spirit of NASCAR racing by consistently doing what they have to do to get the mission accomplished while never even considering the prospect of giving up. They collect sponsors on a race to race basis and their personnel staff barely covers the required manpower to perform a pit stop. Yet there they are each weekend ready to take on the challenge again.

Meanwhile there's Mike Bliss who earlier this year was fired, rehired and then fired again, within the same week, from a full time NASCAR Nationwide Series ride by team owner James Finch in a move that many racing observers still don't understand. Bliss has spent the majority of this season hoping from seat to seat in an effort to keep his presence known while searching for a more stable NASCAR situation for 2010. He's more than proven that he deserves a full time ride.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The NASCAR Banking 500, presented by the Bank Of America, is 334 laps around the Lowes Motor Speedway's 1.5 mile high banked oval.

The defending race winner is Jeff Burton but don't be looking for a repeat in 2009. Burton qualified 34th for Saturday night's race well off of the pole speed set by Jimmie Johnson. It's been a dismal, not to mention mysterious, year for Burton and his team mates from Richard Childress Racing.

The winner of the Lowes Motor Speedway event last May was David Reutimann who scored his first ever Sprint Cup win in a race shortened by rain. Reutimann, and his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, starts 21st in Saturday night's race.

Could weather become a big factor at a Lowes Motor Speedway race for the second time this year? It's possible. The forecast from the National Weather Center calls for a daytime high of 60 degrees. an overnight low of 40 degrees, cloudy skies and the chance of scattered showers on Saturday for the Charlotte-North Carolina area. Combine that forecast with a night race and this event could quickly become a crew chief's nightmare.

The Lowes Motor Speedway has invited 42 different Sprint Cup winners to its victory lane over the years. NASCAR icons Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip lead the winners stats with six each. Chevrolet leads the manufacturer's win list with 36.

The race will be aired by the ABC network beginning at 7 pm eastern time. The rebroadcasts are scheduled for Sunday- 3:15 am et- on ESPN 2, Sunday- 1 pm et- on ESPN Classic and Wednesday- 12 pm et- on Speed.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

This week we're going to take a look at the 12 Chase drivers, their points rankings, starting positions for Saturday night's race and the numerical chances of them winning based on the experts from "Las Vegas Insider Dot Com."

1. Jimmie Johnson. +12 points. starting 1st. 4 to 1 odds. Note: he's a five time winner at Lowes.

2. Mark Martin. -12, starting 2nd, 8 to 1.

3. Juan Pablo Montoya -58, starting 18th, 8 to 1.

4. Tony Stewart -84, starting 5th, 10 to 1. Note: he's driving the same car that won the Kansas race.

5. Jeff Gordon -105, starting 9th, 11 to 2. Note: he's another five time winner at Lowes.

6. Kurt Busch -121, starting 15th, 18 to 1.

7. Greg Biffle -188, starting 23d, 15 to 1.

8. Carl Edwards -192, starting 28th, 16 to 1.

9. Denny Hamlin -219, starting 17th, 16 to 1.

10. Ryan Newman -223, starting 6th, 20 to 1.

11. Kasey Kahne -306, starting 3d, 12 to 1

12. Brian Vickers -351, starting 30th, 22 to 1

Now for the weekly disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you fans that these Las Vegas odds are provided solely for entertainment purposes. NASCAR neither encourages nor condones the placing of wagers on their events.

But oddly enough I find myself drawn like a moth to a flame while looking at Kasey Kahne's 12 to 1 numbers. He's won at Lowes in the past. He had a terrific run going at California last weekend before getting caught up in someone else's wrecks during the late stages of the race. He can't find debris on the track worth a damn but he's still a two time winner this year,

The cell phone lying on my desk seems to be whispering "shall I dial the number for you?"

I probably should discuss this with the beautiful and wonderful live in girlfriend. Wait a minute, it's 2:03 am (pacific time), and waking her up for this probably wouldn't be a great idea.

It's not that she would mind if I placed a wager, but she might care about which particular driver I placed the bet on. During her semi annual visit to the Auto Club Speedway last weekend it seems that she signed official paperwork that made her a member of the "Junior Nation." Betting on any driver other than Dale Earnhardt Jr might not bode well for me.

(A brief pause while you finish laughing).

It is rather funny isn't it? Hey, let's all drop a "Benjamin" on those 88 guys!

(ho ho ho-hee hee hee-ha ha ha).

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