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NASCAR Charlotte Preview

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, October 14, 2010

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NASCAR's 2010 Chase For The Sprint Cup Championship will officially hit the half way point Saturday night when the green flag falls on the Bank Of America 500 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. By the time this race is over, there should a sharper focus on the Chase picture and we will know which teams are serious championship contenders, which teams are still in contention but need to charge a little harder and we should know which teams can start focusing on the 2011 season. In other words, the Bank of America could likely turn out to be deal maker or a deal breaker for the Chase teams.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

If anyone driver is going to deter Jimmie Johnson's drive for five championship run then that process needs to start this weekend. That deterrent won't be easy because Johnson leads all active drivers with six wins at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. That includes being the defending race winner from last year, an event that he won from the pole position.

However, Johnson doesn't have a lock on the standings. Denny Hamlin is right behind him only 36 points away. Kevin Harvick holds down third and is only 54 points out. Both Hamlin and Harvick will have a daunting challenge this Saturday night in Charlotte: finish ahead of Johnson at a speedway that more and more is being referred to as "Jimmie Johnson's House."

Then there's the matter of Jeff Gordon, Johnson's team mate and team co owner who's 85 points away in fourth. Gordon is a five time winner at Charlotte and, like his team mate, is also seeking his fifth Sprint Cup championship this year. This team is still a factor in the Chase due to their high level of consistent finishes. But we've all heard the talk regarding closing the deal plus the fact the #24 hasn't found victory lane since Texas last year. If there was ever an opportunity to rectify that situation then Saturday night is it. Gordon knows the fast way around the Charlotte Motor Speedway. His five wins there proves that.

Under the theory of "where there's smoke there's fire", keep a sharp on eye on Tony Stewart Saturday night. Were it not for running out of gas, en route to winning the first Chase event at New Hampshire, Stewart would be right at the top of the Chase standings instead of being fifth 107 points out. Stewart is riding a huge wave of momentum right now. He won in California last Sunday, on top of his USAC Sprint car teams having a very good weekend, and then on Tuesday he announced that Mobil 1 Oil will be joining the Stewart Haas primary sponsor list for next year. But most of all look for Stewart to be in a hard charge, willing to gamble, mode Saturday night. He's well aware that what's required to get back to the top of the Chase standings.

Also keep a sharp eye on Kurt Busch and his Penske Racing Dodge as well. Sixth in the standings, 140 points out, the elder Busch brother is in a do or die situation in terms of winning his second Sprint Cup championship. But there's some extra motivation here. Busch won the Sprint All Star race and the Coca Cola 600 last May at Charlotte. He's planning on becoming the first ever Cup driver to sweep all three major races at this track in a single season.

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But the one factor, in the Bank Of America 500, that could seriously impact the outcome is the mood of Mother Nature. The weather forecast for the greater Charlotte area calls for sunny skies and 76 degrees during the day. But this is a 500 mile night race that begins at 7 pm eastern time. That means the temperature is expected to drop as the race progresses. In fact the atmospheric temperature could likely drop to the 40's during the late portion of the race.


That means changes in track temperature throughout the night. That, in turn, means changes in the handling of the cars. It also means major concerns, not to mention headaches, for the crew chiefs who will have to deal with the decisions regarding pit road adjustments on their cars. This is especially true during those final pit stops when a crew chief only has one final opportunity to come through for his driver.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

The Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE), to no real surprise has Jimmie Johnson on top of their list to win Saturday night's race at Jimmie Johnson's house. They're backing that theory with 7 to 2 odds based on the driver's six wins there.

Right behind Johnson is Kyle Busch at 7 to 1 odds. Busch is still looking for his first Cup win at Charlotte. He's also looking to revive what's left of his Chase hopes following last Sunday's blown engine in California. Right behind him is the aforementioned Kurt Busch who has been rated at 8 to 1 odds.

At 10 to 1 you will find Roush Fenway Racing drivers Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. Each driver's Chase hopes took a major hit last Sunday in California due to unexpected engine problems. They, also, will be looking to revive what's left of their Chase hopes Saturday night.

Wow, look at what the WSE has for you at 12 to 1 odds this week. It's a quartet of Chase contenders featuring Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. This is a rock solid opportunity worthy of any one's consideration. It's also worthy of obtaining kitchen pass permission to call the WSE.

Looking at the WSE's middle portion of this week's rankings you will find another wager worthy of consideration. It's three time Charlotte winner Kasey Kahne at 15 to 1. Right behind him is Matt Kenseth, another Charlotte winner, at 18 to 1. At 20 to 1 you will find Childress Racing drivers Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton who is a three time winner at this track.

At the bottom of this week's rankings are Joey Logano and David Reutimann, whose only Cup win came at Charlotte, at 30 to 1. The third driver in this group is five time Charlotte winner Mark Martin and that could turn out to be a worthy wager for those who like long shots. After suffering a dismal 2010 racing season, the Martin team looked really strong last weekend. Completing this week's WSE rankings is the second Stewart-Haas entry driven by Ryan Newman at 40 to1.

Now for the disclaimer. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these posted numbers are for information and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their events.

But, if you're going to do it anyway, then seriously take a look at those four drivers in the 12 to 1 category. Pardon me while I take a break and go to the kitchen to have a friendly chat with the house "Sweetie."

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Bank Of America 500 is 334 laps/501 miles around the Charlotte Motor Speedway's 1.5 mile quad oval.

With the vast majority of NASCAR race shops calling the Charlotte area home, this race is considered to be a home turf event and that's likely why this race has an unusually high 51 entries vying for the 43 starting positions.

16 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth in the race because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speed to make the race.

Opened in 1960, the Charlotte Motor Speedway has hosted 103 Sprint Cup races that has sent 43 different winners to victory lane.

Chevrolet leads the manufacturer's stats at Charlotte with 37 wins. By the way Chevrolet wrapped up the 2010 Manufacturer's Cup following Tony Stewart's win last Sunday at the Auto Club Speedway. It's their 34th Cup championship since the contest was created back in 1950.

In this day and age qualifying has become increasingly important to a Sprint Cup team. It determines pre race track position and, of equal importance, pit stall selection. Elliot Sadler holds the track qualifying record, 193.216 MPH, set in back in October of 2005. But it's the "Rocket Man" who owns the qualifying stats at Charlotte. Ryan Newman has won the pole a series high nine times followed by Jeff Gordon at seven.

The Charlotte Motor Speedway's 1.5 mile quad oval has 24 degrees of banking in the turns and five degrees on the straightaways. The pit road speed is 45 MPH.

The speedway presently has seating for 171,000 fans.

The Charlotte Motor Speedway complex is located on approximately 2,000 acres of property. The land was originally the site of a working plantation during the civil war and, earlier than that, President George Washington ate lunch and rested in a house that later served as the speedway's office.

The Bank Of America 500 will be broadcast live by ABC beginning at 7pm eastern time. The re airs will be Sunday morning, 3am et, on ESPN2 and the following Wednesday, 12pm et, on SPEED.

NATIONWIDE RACE

NASCAR's Nationwide Series will be taking on the Charlotte Motor Speedway's 1.5 mile oval for Friday night's Dollar General 300. This race will feature the series' new Car Of Tomorrow, (COT) making its fourth and final appearance of the season. Meanwhile series teams will searching for a way to slow down the domination of Joe Gibbs Racing and Danica Patrick continues her Indy Car to NASCAR transition.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

The Nationwide Series COT will be making its final appearance for the 2010 season Friday night following three previous races that netted the new car high praise from the drivers, team owners, officials and the fans. This car was, of course, about placing modern day driver safety innovations, developed by the Sprint Cup COT cars, into the Nationwide vehicles.

But a bonus came from the invention of this new Nationwide Series COT. From the very beginning the new car was very fast and very drivable and that translated to very close and exciting racing. The new car was gradually integrated into the Nationwide Series this year via four carefully picked races to allow for any fine tuning that may have been needed. The new COT will race the series full time in 2011 beginning in February.

There's only one more change that would make this COT program complete: Chevrolet caves in to the wishes of the Nationwide Series fans and puts their hot looking Camaro on the race track.

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If you had to use one word to describe the Nationwide Series performance of Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch awesome would be a good choice. So far in 2010 their #18 team has amassed 12 wins, 20 top five finishes and 22 top ten finishes. The Charlotte Motor Speedway is yet another stopping point that has felt the Kyle Busch domination. In 14 previous starts there he has a series high six wins and has won at Charlotte four times in his last five starts.

Busch is third in the series' points standings but that's only because he's not running the full schedule this year. However, his efforts has placed Joe Gibbs Racing on top of the coveted owner's points championship. Going into Friday night's race, JGR holds a 149 point advantage over Jodi Geschickter the owner of record for the Penske Racing Dodge driven by Brad Keselowski.

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It's hard to imagine that such a prolific team owner as Roger Penske has never won a championship in a NASCAR national touring series. This is especially true in light of the accomplishments he has enjoyed in other forms of racing.

But it looks like the elusive NASCAR championship is finally coming his way. His Nationwide Series team, led by driver Brad Keselowski, is coming into the Charlotte race with a 384 point lead over season rival Carl Edwards.

With five races left in the season, it appears that it's time to notify the official engraver of NASCAR to start the engraving process on the championship trophy. He may need the extra time to figure out how to space all those letters in the driver's name.

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Danica Patrick will be continuing her transition from Indy car to NASCAR this Friday night. She will once again be participating in the NASCAR learning curve behind the wheel of the #7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. She will also be making her first ever start at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Patrick looked strong during the Nationwide Series race last Saturday at the Auto Club Speedway. She practiced and qualified well there. She was also well on her way to achieving her pre race goal of a top 15 finish before she got caught up in a late race crash not of her making with only seven laps left. Her 30th place finish in California is no where indicative of the job she did before the crash.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Dollar General 300 is 200 laps/300 miles around the Charlotte Motor Speedway's 1.5 mile quad oval.

The race has 45 entries vying for the 43 starting berths.

14 of those entries are double duty drivers or those who also compete full time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

15 entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth in the race because they are currently outside of the top 30 in NASCAR Nationwide Series owner's points. These teams will have to earn a berth in the race based on their qualifying speeds.

The Dollar General 300 will be broadcast live by the ESPN2 Network beginning at 730 pm eastern time.

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