The Kansas winds and a NASCAR tornado have brought us to Charlotte, the heart of NASCAR and home to many drivers. And this season is starting to resemble an old-time movie serial that entertained our grandparents. To see the complete picture, they had to keep returning to the theater every week as the 15 minute shorts developed their continuous storyline over the course of several months. These serials often had wildly exaggerated plots and cliffhangers designed to make the moviegoer return.
After four races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Carl Edwards owns the slimmest of leads heading into Charlotte. Edwards is one point ahead of Kevin Harvick and four clear of last week’s winner Jimmie Johnson as the drivers reach the halfway point of the Chase. After Johnson’s dominating performance last week everyone’s eyes are on Johnson but I wouldn’t just follow Johnson, there are other drivers that desire attention too. Time to get down to who are our favorites, dark horses and underdogs at Charlotte.
As we said earlier, Johnson put on a dominating performance but had to hold off Kasey Kahne during a green-white-checkered finish to win last week’s race. The five-time Sprint Cup champion should have the upper hand this week, as he owns six titles in Charlotte, including three wins in the last seven fall races. So naturally, Johnson is one of our favorites this weekend.
Another one of our favorites this weekend is Kasey Kahne. I had stated Monday on SportsRantz Radio show: “Krankin’ It Up w Kristina Chambers” I firmly believe in the Red Bull #4 Toyota is a competitor and these guys are really hungry for a win. Kasey Kahne is a driver that will never really dwell on the bad and always looks for ways to improve and winning at Charlotte is the ultimate win for Kahne and Red Bull.
Our last favorite for the weekend is Brad Keselowski. If not for a stumble at Dover two weeks ago, the driver of the No. 2 Dodge would be within a few points of the leader on the backs of three top-fives in the first four playoff races. Since finishing ninth at Indy in the Brickyard 400, the AAA 400 at Dover has been the only time he finished worse than 12th — and that 20th-place result has done little to hurt his average finish of 5.8. On the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, he’s been equally impressive. After winning the STP 400 at Kansas, the worst he’s done in five races on this track type was seventh. He is the wild card and by wild card I mean the wild one to look out for, Brad could make the Chase points very interesting.
Despite being the points leader, Carl Edwards has to be demoted to a dark horse this weekend. First, his recent record at Charlotte leaves much to be desired with only one top-10 in his past six starts. With a pair of 16ths and a 12th in the past three, he hasn’t been terrible and should remain in Chase contention at the end of the Bank of America 500, but you expect more from a driver that demands such a hefty salary cap. Secondly, last week’s struggles at Kansas are fresh in our minds and he could continue to grasp for the right setup this weekend.
Joey Logano is flying far enough under the radar screen this week that snakes are ducking when he passes over them, but that could be in your favor. Charlotte is his best track of all those visited by NASCAR, and with a 7.4 average finish in five starts, he’s never struggled there. Logano has never failed to finish on the lead lap and his worst result is a respectable 13th. Don’t worry too much if he qualifies modestly, because his average starting position is about 14th, but he has improved from start to finish in all but one race. So why not put Joey Logano in the mix of things?
After a blow up in Kansas, Jeff Gordon is our main underdog. Jeff’s problems on this track type dated back to the 2010 edition of the Bank of America 500 when he finished 23rd. A 37th at Texas last fall and three results of 20th or worse this spring on “cookie-cutter” tracks caused many to question his odds of winning the championship. He seemed to turn things around in the middle of the year with a fourth at Kansas, a 10th at Kentucky, and a victory at Atlanta, but it wouldn’t last. Chicagoland was disastrous even before he ran out of gas in the closing laps and last week, he proved that his Achilles heel is his ability to move forward or protect his position during double-file restarts. This is not a good time to visit Charlotte, where his past two results have been in the 20s and where his past six seasons have produced an average finish of 19.2.
Another driver who is going to need a lot of good luck is Tony Stewart. Hurdling Charlotte is one could keep Tony’s Chase hopes alive or they could fizzle out and be done for this year. At Dover, he showed that simply being in the top 12 in points is not a miracle cure and Charlotte has been equally unkind to him in recent seasons. He hasn’t earned a top-10 on this track in more than three years and his past seven starts have produced an average finish of 16.3. His worst result in that span of races was a 21st, so his fans can take comfort in the fact that he probably won’t finish in the back half of the pack.
Charlotte is looking to be promising for some drivers while other drivers are going to have to tackle the storm at Charlotte! Wheels up and buckle those belts!