Entering last year's Charlotte race, Jimmie Johnson trailed points leader Carl Edwards by four points. He left trailing by 35.
It was the perfect symbol for the end of Johnson's reign. He crashed at a track that he had dominated throughout his career. In his five championship seasons, the lowest Johnson had ever finished at Charlotte was 14th. That was in 2007, and after that race, he was in second, trailing teammate and points leader Jeff Gordon by 68 points — or roughly 2o points converting to the current point system.
So this current 14 point deficit to Brad Keselowski? Nah, that's nothing. (For all of his success at Charlotte, Johnson has never taken the points lead during the race. In 2006 and 2007, he's entered and left trailing, and in 2008-2010, he was the points leader both before and after.)
Johnson's average finish at Charlotte is the highest of any Chase driver at 11.8, with six wins and 14 top 10s in 22 races. Yes, it's worth noting that since his last win (the 2009 fall race) that Johnson has finished 28th or lower three times in five races. But, it's Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte. After all, the dude did win four straight races there at one time.
Here's how the other Chasers stack up:
Kasey Kahne: Kahne's won the Coca-Cola 600 earlier this season and you can make a case that he's been the series' best on intermediate tracks this season. That bodes well, as four of the final six races are at 1.5 mile tracks. In his career at Charlotte, Kahne has three wins and an average finish of 12.7.
Tony Stewart: Think of how different the storylines would be surrounding Tony Stewart this week if he would have held onto the lead for another 1/3 of a lap. Anyway, Stewart's average finish is 14.0 at Charlotte and his lone win there came in 2003. In last year's race, he had the pole and led 94 laps, finishing 8th.
Matt Kenseth: Here's the man that won last year's Charlotte Chase race and the guy that won Sunday at Talladega, and he clocks in with a 14.2 average finish. Kenseth has 14 top 10s in 26 starts, and is going to need to repeat if he wants to get out of the Chase cellar.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin's average finish at Charlotte is a nice, round, 15.0 and he's got 7 top 10s in 14 starts. He finished second in the Coca-Cola 600, and unless he finishes behind Johnson or Keselowski, I'm sure second this time would be just fine too.
Gordon: Gordon clocks in with an average finish of 15.7 and 21 top 10s in 39 starts. His last Charlotte win came in 2007. You know what will probably happen on Saturday night? He'll finish fourth... behind Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin, in that order.
Keselowski: His fifth place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 was Keselowski's first top 10 in six Charlotte starts, and he finished 16th in last year's Bank of America 500. As we've said before, Keselowski is NASCAR's small sample size outlier, so his average finish (16.5), is likely the least indicative of anyone else's.
Greg Biffle: Being in Roush equipment for all of his 19 starts at Charlotte, doesn't it seem that Biffle's average finish would be higher than 17.1 and he would have won a race at the track before? Biffle has 4 top fives and 7 top 10s.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has finished outside the top 10 in his last four Charlotte starts, and was 13th in the 600 in May. His average finish is 17.5, and his best run came in 2007's fall race at the track, where he finished second and led 79 laps.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick's only victory at Charlotte came in last year's 600, when he seized the lead on the final lap when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas, the second of his four straight top 10 finishes at Charlotte. And he finished second and eighth in his two rookie Charlotte starts. But in the 17 races between his rookie year and the first of those top 10s, he only grabbed one top 10 finish. His average finish is 18.1.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior has 11 top 10s in 26 Charlotte starts, with five top fives and no wins and an 18.8 average finish. He finished sixth in the 600, and 19th in last year's fall race. In between finishing fifth in the 2008 600 and seventh in the 2011 race, Junior's highest Charlotte finish was 22nd.
Martin Truex Jr.: Here's Other Junior, and his stats at Charlotte are slightly worse than Junior in the average finish department at 19.4. He's got two top 10s in 14 Charlotte starts and was 12th earlier in the year at the 600.
Ryan Newman: Newman has nine poles in his career at Charlotte, but the worst average finish of any Chaser at 20.1 Kind of weird, eh? Newman had the pole for both 2007 races, and promptly lost an engine in the 600 and crashed in the 500 for finishes of 39th and 28th. He was 10th in last year's Chase race here.
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