NOTES FROM THE NASCAR NATION: Charlotte could be a Chase deal maker or deal breaker

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 championships” 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.


American Muscle

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. Its 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 nor 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 straight-aways. 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, 3 am ET, on ESPN2 and the following Wednesday, 12 pm ET, on SPEED.


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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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