By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore
Capsules for all drivers competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
10 MATT KENSETH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Matt Kenseth remains atop the Sprint Cup standings after the first four races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He leads former points leader Jimmie Johnson by three points, and is 25 points ahead of third-ranked Kevin Harvick.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: 28 career starts, 2 wins, 7 top-fives, 14 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2000 and fall 2011. Finished 14th in this race last year and was 15th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth is loking to widen the gap between himself and Jimmie Johnson in the standingso at Charlotte. Kenseth leads Johnson by a mere three points, the smallest edge Kenseth has had over another driver thus far in the Chase. He also has to worry about the five career DNFs he has at Charlotte. Here's his thoughts on Saturday night's race: "I feel lucky for not being wrecked (this past Sunday at Kansas). And I feel really fortunate to still be leading the points."
LOOKING BACK: Kenseth led 21 laps at Kansas in what he called the most "evilest race car" he's ever driven.
ETC.: Kenseth has completed 94.5 percent (9,436) of the 9,986 total laps contested in 28 career starts at Charlotte. His average start is 17.2, while his average finish is 14.2. He has five DNFs there.
48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in second place in the standings for the second straight week after Sunday's race at Kansas. However, he closed the points gap on series leader Matt Kenseth to just three points, and leads third-ranked Kevin Harvick by 22 points.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: 24 career starts, 6 wins, 11 top-5s, 15 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2003, spring 2004, fall 2004, spring 2005, fall 2005 and fall 2009. Finished third in this race last year and was 22nd in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson returns to Charlotte, a track where he was so successful earlier in his career - including four wins in a row and five of six from 2003 through 2005 - that it earned the nickname "the house that Jimmie built." Since then, however, Johnson has struggled at times: in his last seven starts there, he's finished 22nd or worse four times. Given how close he is to Matt Kenseth in the standings, Johnson is looking for a return to glory at Charlotte Saturday night. Here's his thoughts: "I'm excited to be racing at home in Charlotte this week. It's just 30 minutes from the house and I can get home quickly and see everybody and sleep in my own bed. The track has been really good to us over the years and I certainly need another strong performance there, the way things are going in the Chase right now. So, I'm excited to get back."
LOOKING BACK: Johnson led six laps and appeared in contention to possibly win a second race in a row, but faded near the end and finished sixth at Kansas.
ETC.: Johnson has completed 97.0 percent (8,260) of the 8,518 total laps contested in 24 career starts at Charlotte. His average start there is 7.5 and his average finish is 11.9. He has four DNFs there.
29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet
Team: Richard Childress Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick continued his climb up the Sprint Cup standings ladder. With his win Sunday at Kansas, he moved into third place for the first time this season. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 25 points (up from 39 points before Kansas), is 22 points behind second-ranked Jimmie Johnson and leads fourth-ranked Jeff Gordon by seven points.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: 25 career starts, 2 wins, 3 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2011 and spring 2013. Was 16th in this race last year and first in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick truly appears intent on winning his first Sprint Cup championship in his last season with Richard Childress Racing (he moves to Stewart-Haas Racing next season). The win at Kansas could have been the biggest win of his career, especially if it is the foundation upon which he builds a championship upon. Here's Harvick's thoughts on Saturday night's race at Charlotte, particularly given he won the last Cup race there in May: "Good pit strategy, that's what we hit on last time we were at Charlotte. We had a decent car in May, but Gil (Martin, crew chief) made the right call at the end to put us in position to have a good restart. Once we were in the right spot, we were able to hold the lead once we got there and were able to pick up the win. The main difference (between the May and October races at Charlotte) is the temperature change. Once night falls during the October race, Charlotte (becomes completely different than what we practice on during the day. You can bet on the fact that the track will be really fast as the temperature drops and we'll gain a lot of grip."
LOOKING BACK: Harvick was the class of the field, completely dominating Sunday's race at Kansas, leading 138 of the 267 laps there, en route to his third win of the season. Not coincidentally, two of the three have been on 1.5-mile tracks, which bodes well for him this Saturday at Charlotte, especially since he won there the last time the Cup series visited, back in May, and is coming off a win at the 1.5-mile track at Kansas.
ETC.: Harvick has completed 97.4 percent (8,686) of the 8,918 total laps contested in 25 career starts at Charlotte. His average start is 18.8 and average finish is 17.3. He has one DNF there.
24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon remained in fourth place (albeit he's no longer tied with Kevin Harvick, as he was after Dover) after Sunday's race at Kansas. Gordon trails series leader Matt Kenseth by 32 points (up from 39 last week), is seven points behind third-ranked Harvick and leads fifth-ranked Kyle Busch by three points.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: 41 career starts, 5 wins, 16 top-fives, 21 top-10s, 8 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 1994, spring 1997, spring 1998, fall 1999 and fall 2007. Was 18th in this race last year and 35th in this year's spring race there (knocked out by a crash), his fifth-worst career finish there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon needs to make a big move to keep his championship hopes alive, and there's no better place than Charlotte this Saturday night. However, he also has to keep in mind that he has recorded 10 career DNFs there (the most at any track) too, which means he has to stay out of trouble as much as possible if he hopes to keep the upward surge in the Chase going. Here's his thoughts on the race: "I am really looking forward to this weekend's race. We ran well here in May (before the wreck), and we've had some great runs since the Chase started. I like how this team is performing and the effort they are putting in right now. I'm having a lot of fun. We ran well here earlier this year and I think our intermediate track program has only gotten better since then."
LOOKING BACK: Although he didn't lead a lap, Gordon was very strong at Kansas, finishing third in a 1-2-3 Chevrolet sweep of the top three spots (Kevin Harvick won and Kurt Busch was runner-up).
ETC.: Gordon has completed 92.6 percent (13,638) of 14,723 total laps contested in 41 career starts at Charlotte. His average start is 10.5 and average finish is 16.2. He has 10 DNFs there.
18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Having ranked second in the standings following the first two Chase races, Kyle Busch dropped to third after Dover and down to fifth after Sunday's race at Kansas. He trails points leader and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth by 35 points (down from 12 prior to Kansas), is seven points behind fourth-place Jeff Gordon and leads sixth-ranked Greg Biffle by nine points.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: 19 career starts, 0 wins, 8 top-fives, 11 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: Second in fall 2010 and fall 2011. Finished fifth in this race last year and was 38th in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch took a huge blow in the standings after Kansas. He needs to regain as much of the ground he lost there as he can this Saturday at Charlotte, a track that he has never won a Cup race at. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "We'll just have to work hard. We just have to keep doing what we've done to get us to this point all year long and that's been consistency. And every other track except Kansas seems to be able to bode well for us, so we'll see what happens and, if it doesn't happen, doesn't happen. This team isn't going to give up, by any means. Winning at Charlotte, since it's my favorite track, would be really special."
LOOKING BACK: The Kansas Speedway jinx continued to curse Busch. He was involved in three separate incidents on-track, the last being a wreck that knocked him out of the race. He ultimately finished a disappointing 34th.
ETC.: Busch has completed just 91.3 percent (6,244) of the 6,840 total laps contested in 19 career starts at Charlotte. His average start is 14.6, while his average finish is 16.5. He has five DNFs there.
16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle remained in sixth place for the second consecutive week after Sunday's race at Kansas. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 44 points, is seven points behind fifth-ranked Kyle Busch, and leads seventh-ranked Kurt Busch by three points.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: 21 career starts, 0 wins, 5 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: Second in spring 2008. Was fourth in this race last year (after starting from the pole there for the first time in his career) and 31st in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle doesn't need to be told anything, he knows what he needs to do at Charlotte to pump up his sagging fortunes in the Chase. Here's his thoughts on Saturday night's race: "We've had some really good runs there lately, just haven't been able to pull off the win. Charlotte changes the most out of any track we race at from evening to night. We've been fast, but as the rubber gets down, the handling changes. We've got to stay up with the track to win there Saturday night."
LOOKING BACK: Four other Ford drivers fared better than Biffle at Kansas, who just couldn't seem to find the right combination to finish any higher than 13th.
ETC.: Biffle has completed 90.3 percent (6,724) of 7,450 total laps contested in 21 career starts at Charlotte. His average start is 17.8 and average finish is 17.1. He has two DNFs there.
78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet
Team: Furniture Row Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: Kurt Busch climbed two spots in the standings, up to seventh, following a strong performance Sunday at Kansas. He trails series leader Matt Kenseth by 47 points, is three points behind sixth-ranked Greg Biffle and leads eighth-ranked Dale Earnhardt Jr. by seven points.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: 26 career starts, 1 wins, 6 top-fives, 7 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: First in spring 2010. Finished 21st in this race last year (in his debut with Furniture Row Racing) and was third in this year's spring race there.
LOOKING AHEAD: Busch made a big move forward at Kansas and needs to continue that momentum at Charlotte, a track that he has had only marginal success at in his career (just seven top-10s in 26 starts). Here's his thoughts on Saturday night's race: "Charlotte is going to be tougher than most people think, even though we ran really well there in the Sprint All-Star Race and the 600. I won those two races in 2010 and went back in October and ran 30th. We didn't advance with our setup from the month of May to October. So it's going to be more of 'what have you done lately.' I feel pretty good about how our Furniture Row team has found speed at the mile-and-a-half tracks. Charlotte is the third of five 1.5-mile races in the Chase and we're off to a pretty good start. This is all encouraging and I really want to give this team a victory. Hopefully we'll cash in on Saturday night."
LOOKING BACK: Busch ran a close second to winner Kevin Harvick in Sunday's race at Kansas.
ETC.: Busch has completed 90.9 percent (8,412) of the 9,252 total laps contested in 26 career starts at Charlotte. His average start is 21.0, while his average finish is 19.1. He has three DNFs there.
88 DALE EARNHARDT, JR., Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, 54 points out of first place. Gained two spots last week.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: Two top-seven finishes in his last four starts to give him 11 top-10 finishes in 27 races.
LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt will make the 500th start of his Cup career Saturday night at Charlotte. "It doesn't seem like I've been around that long to be honest with you," said Earnhardt, who made his Cup debut at Charlotte in May 1999. "It just doesn't. It's been a pleasure being a part of the series and seeing the changes and the growth. I hope to be around and witness a lot more." Earnhardt celebrated his 39th birthday Thursday at the track. He will try and become only the third driver to win in their 500th start. Richard Petty did it in 1970 and Matt Kenseth did it three weeks ago at New Hampshire.
LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt moved up four spots in the final 35 laps to finish eighth at Kansas. "Man, we had a fast car, but we needed some longer green-flag runs," said Earnhardt, who led four times for 10 laps. "Our car was really fast once the tires were warm and we got some green-flag laps, but the track was real slick on this new tire and it didn't seem like we could get very far before the yellows started flying."
ETC.: Earnhardt said he is "quite proud of what our team has done in these past three races (all top-10 finishes). We've climbed nicely out of the cellar (in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship) and are working our way up. We need to keep doing that and we'll see where it all shakes out." Earnhardt has gained five spots in the last three races.
15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, 55 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: Won the fall race a year ago and finished eighth in the May event.
LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer hopes for a repeat performance from his win a year ago. "That was one of the most unexpected, fun and crazy nights of my life," said Bowyer. "We ran out of gas, walked to victory lane - which was pure chaos - went to the media center and had one of the most memorable press conferences I can remember. When I woke up in the morning I was still trying to piece it all together. I had a new watch, sports coat and I couldn't find the trophy. Now I'm just ready to do it all over again this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Bowyer finished 14th at Kansas. "We had a pretty crazy day with a lot of cautions (13)," said Bowyer. "The number 15 team battled some handling issues early, but once we got some track position I thought we were pretty good. But as the weather and track conditions changed we struggled a little bit getting the car to turn in the center of the corner. I thought for sure we were going to come out of there with a top-five. That would have really helped us gain some ground in the points. It didn't turn out that way. Too many cautions and just too hard to pass."
ETC.: Tight rope walker Nik Wallenda will perform his high-wire act before the race Saturday night. Bowyer calls Wallenda "crazy. I watched him perform that walk last year from the top of the grandstand over to victory lane and was in awe. I did it for 10 feet when the wire was about 18 inches off the ground and had a hard time. I made it across, but just barely. Now this guy is hundreds of feet off the ground walking, above people mind you, about 500 times as far."
22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford
Team: Penske Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, 59 points out of first place. Gained two spots last week.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: Finished fifth in the May race for his sixth top-10 finish in nine starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Logano is not ready to give up his dream of winning the championship in his first year in the Chase. "I feel like we still could win this thing, but we don't have any more mulligans," said Logano. "We've been digging out of a hole all year. We've had to fight from behind all year and we'll just have to keep doing that. We had a good car in May at Charlotte, and I'm confident we'll have another good car this weekend."
LOOKING BACK: Logano finished fourth at Kansas for his second straight top-five finish. "It was pretty crazy out there," said Logano, who led twice for 33 laps. "Every restart you had to be so aggressive to pass people because that was your best shot to pass them and everyone realized it. There wasn't much grip out there and everyone was having trouble and that means you have going to have a crash. We proved that fact multiple times (13) today. They gave me a really fast car, but it was so hard to pass cars."
ETC.: Logano admits he has had to change the way he looks at each race now that he doesn't necessarily control his own destiny. "It (his quest to come from behind to win the 2013 title) changes the way you look at the race now because we have a lot to lose and a lot to gain," said Logano. "Now we still have a little bit to lose, but we have a lot more to gain than we have to lose right now, so we can be a little bit more aggressive. We have to attack each race now."
99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford
Team: Roush Fenway Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 60 points out of first place.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: Three top-nine finishes in the last four races to bring his top-10 total to 10 in 17 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards said, "Charlotte has been hot or cold for us. We hope to build on our top-five at Kansas. We need great runs to stay in the hunt for the championship. Charlotte is fast and will require great strategy. Jimmy (Fennig, his crew chief) and my crew have been amazing, so I'll lean on them. We are hoping this will be one of our hot weeks at Charlotte."
LOOKING BACK: Edwards finished fifth at Kansas. "I don't know if we actually deserved to finish that well as much as I wanted to finish better than that," said Edwards. "We struggled. Holy moly that track is tough. The restarts were insane. Look up insane and that is the definition right there. Kyle (Busch) and I ended up wrecking, but I kept it going straight. The tire worked great in the test when it was about 25 degrees warmer but the conditions changed (for the race) and we went into an unknown area and didn't know the tire would act that way. It was treacherous, I mean, death-defying every time you went into the corner on a run."
ETC.: With Talladega still looming as the wild-card race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, Edwards believes he can still be a factor in the race for the 2013 title. "We gained ground at Kansas and if we do it again at Charlotte, we are still in the hunt," said Edwards. "We all know that a lot of things can change in six weeks, especially with Talladega still ahead of us. So we are not about to give up."
39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet
Team: Stewart-Haas Racing
WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 73 points out of first place. Lost five spots last week.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: Finished sixth in the May race to boost his top-10 total to nine in 25 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "I hope we can build off where we were in the Coca-Cola 600. We had a good car, and were in position at the end. I've been in position several times in the Coke 600 and actually I think about five years ago led everything - led coming to the white (flag) and then crashed in turn one. I've been close (to winning) at Charlotte. Looking forward to just a good rebound weekend from what we had in Kansas. That would be good for not just me but for everybody (on the team)."
LOOKING BACK: Newman's championship hopes were all but wiped out at Kansas as he got caught up in a wreck just past the halfway point of the 267-lap event. "There's not much to say other than we were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in an accident not of our making," said Newman, who ended the day in 35th place. "It's definitely a disappointing day for all of us on the Code 3 Associates team."
ETC.: Newman admits "it's been an up-and-down year on several fronts, career-wise, race-wise, Chase-wise, all those things. But I have an extreme passion for the outdoors. Literally an hour ago I was sitting on my tractor planting alfalfa on my farm. I enjoy those things that are a release for me. In the end, there's a balance there. Whether it's feeding deer or taking care of my kids or fishing or whatever, I just enjoy those things that are entirely different from what we do in any given weekend."
KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet
Team: Hendrick Motorsports
WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 83 points out of first place.
CHARLOTTE RECORD: Will be shooting for his fifth straight top-eight finish. Has four wins and 11 top-10 finishes including eight top-five's in 19 starts.
LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne said, "Looking at the remaining races on the schedule this season, there are a couple tracks that we've been able to run up front at every time we go there. Charlotte is one of them so I'm looking forward to this weekend. I think it's a track we can definitely run well at."
LOOKING BACK: After running in the top 10 for much of the race, Kahne encountered handling problems during the final 35 laps and ended the day in 15th place. "During the middle of the race, we were pretty good," said Kahne. "But all those cautions at the end didn't really allow us much chance to get back up to where we had been running. The car just wasn't as good at the end as we needed it to be."
ETC.: Kahne knows his chances of winning the 2013 championship are "history. So I'm focused on trying to get back on track and finishing up the season strong. We'll do what we can to finish off our year on a high note, and hopefully we can get a win or two at some of my best race tracks." Kahne has two wins to his credit this season.