COMMENTARY | Charlotte, North Carolina is the home to most of the top teams in NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the series' "home track," Charlotte Motor Speedway. Race week in Charlotte is full of fanfare and fun, culminating with the Saturday night, October 12 running of the fifth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the Bank of America 500, at the 1.5-mile speedway.
Barring an epic fail by one of the frontrunners in the Chase, the battle for the 2013 championship is down to seven drivers, with leader Matt Kenseth and seventh-place Kurt Busch separated by 47 points -one race worth of points. Who's hot among the top seven, and who could come in and spoil the party? Watch for these drivers Saturday night under the lights.
Matt Kenseth - Sitting just three points ahead of Jimmie Johnson after last weekend's race at Kansas Speedway, Kenseth can't afford a mistake - his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch took his "mulligan" at Kansas, and it dropped him from third to fifth in points, 35 back of Kenseth. Kenseth has two wins and 14 top 10s in 28 races at Charlotte, but a middle-of-the-pack run will give away the points lead.
Jimmie Johnson - "Five-Time" is back, and at the perfect time as well - he has 22 combined wins at five of the six final tracks on the schedule, including six at Charlotte (he's winless only at Homestead-Miami Speedway). Johnson also has 15 total top 10s and three poles at the track, and four wins in the All-Star Race.
Kevin Harvick - Through four races in the Chase, Harvick has three top six finishes, including last weekend's Kansas win, and a worst finish of 20th - he's also on a high from winning his first pole since 2006. Fans that were waiting for a "lame duck" season from Harvick, who leaves Richard Childress Racing at season's end to join Stewart-Haas Racing, aren't going to get it - he's in third place and going out full-throttle.
Jeff Gordon - Gordon jumped from eighth place following New Hampshire to fourth after Kansas, and like Johnson has 22 combined wins - at least one at each track - at the final six tracks on the schedule. Gordon, the controversial 13th driver in the Chase this year, has five wins at Charlotte, with 21 top 10 finishes in 41 career races - he also has eight poles on his Charlotte resume.
Spoilers - Sitting 13th in points, 83 points behind Kenseth, Kasey Kahne is a has-been in the Chase, but he is likely to shine at Charlotte. Kahne has four wins and 11 top 10 finishes in 19 races at Charlotte, and he has a win in the All-Star Race. Denny Hamlin, who set the qualifying record at Charlotte this past May (195.624 mph), has yet to win a race there, but does have nine top 10 finishes in 16 races, and hasn't finished outside the top 10 in the last six races.
Source: "Statistical Advance: Analyzing the Bank of America 500," NASCAR Media, October 7, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.
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