This weekend marks my first trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a race weekend. I had the privilege of touring the track three years ago as a part of my trip to the Tar Heel State to watch my beloved Mountaineers take down the North Carolina Tar Heels in a thrilling 31-30 shootout in the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl. Since my tour of the track in December 2008, I have been itching to make it to a race weekend at the historic 1.5-mile quad oval, and it’s almost a dream come true for me this weekend.
[media-credit name=”charlottemotorspeedway.com” align=”alignright” width=”254″][/media-credit]This Saturday’s Bank of America 500 will be run under the lights in front of 140,000+ fans at the first modern superspeedway to install and host night racing. Until 1998, when lights were installed at Daytona International Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway was the largest track in the world to host night racing.
It may be the history behind the track, or the battle for the Sprint Cup that has begun to heat up ever so slightly, or it may be the 4-day “vacation” I get by heading to Charlotte this weekend that has me so amped up for this weekend’s race. It might be the fact that this will be the first race this fall that I will watch with undivided attention, but I really think I might be most excited to see the monstrosity that is the HD video board that stretches 200 feet down the backstretch at Charlotte Motor Speedway. After following all the tweets this spring about the video board, I am overly excited to see how massive this thing is.
It was announced in September of last year that CMS would partner with Panasonic to install the World’s largest HD video board at the track. The 9 million LED’s that make up the video board measures 200 feet by 80 feet, probably the best place in the World for a Call of Duty: Black Ops match.
I had mixed results following this spring’s trip to The Beast of the Southeast, but I did manage pick the winner of May’s Sprint Cup All-Star Race, as well as the runner-up in the Coke 600. I look forward to seeing the cars in action this week, and hope that my keen eye will help me make some power picks this week for my first trip to Charlotte.
I won’t spend too much time this week recapping my finishes in Kansas, due to my eagerness to get to some racetracks that do not encourage three-hour naps on Sunday afternoon. The Bank of America 500 this Saturday marks the start of my amplified interest-level in The Chase schedule.
My Winner Pick for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 was the driver of NASCAR’s “Blue Deuce”. Brad Keselowski had won the June race at Kansas Speedway, he won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday at Kansas, and he was a shoe-in for the race win on Sunday.
He started the race 15th, and made his way into the top-10 early. Fast forwarding through the 200 laps of napping, Keselowski hit the point at lap 207. He also was shown on top of the leaderboard at lap 241, but was passed for the lead by eventual race-winner, Jimmie Johnson on lap 245. Bad Brad brought his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger home in third and spoke on pit road after the race: “Everybody was a little close; we were just closer, but the Miller Lite Dodge was good. Proud of the effort. Kind of an up-and-down day. We got up to be a second- or third-place car mid part of the race, then kind of fell off a little bit, but came back. Third-place day, that’s good, that’s what you’ve got to do. Really, we want to win races like Jimmie (Johnson), but we’re making the best we can out of it. If he stumbles, we’ll be there.”
Despite being second-fastest in Sprint Cup Final Practice at Kansas Speedway, David Ragan brought me no help as a Dark Horse pick last week.
Ragan started 13th on Sunday, but quickly fell through the field ending up a lap down to the leaders for the majority of the 267 lap race. The long green-flag runs that occurred at Kansas last week, allowed little time for adjustments throughout the race. Track-position was as good as gold last week, and Ragan couldn’t find any to improve his finish.
“We just weren’t lucky today. We missed getting the lucky dog a couple of times and the chips just didn’t fall our way. When you’re back there 10th to 20th you need a couple lucky breaks and we just didn’t get them. We could have gotten a top 10 out of it, but it just wasn’t our day.”
When it was all said and done, Ragan finished 20th and lent me no help in improving my average finish for my Dark Horse picks.
Despite a busy day of media availabilities, Nationwide Series qualifying, two Sprint Cup practice sessions, and even a car wash, I’ve found a bit of time to make a couple picks this Friday Afternoon. My winner pick in the other points race this year at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Carl Edwards did not fare too well in his attempt to sweep the SpeedWeeks races this May.
After winning the Sprint Cup All-Star race here in May, Carl decided to give his Ford Fusion little bodywork on the infield grass. Let’s just say the car was fast enough the way it was and it really had an affect on the 16th place finish he picked up in the Coke 600.
As for my Dark Horse for the Coke 600, David Ragan scored me my highest finish for any of my 21 Dark Horse picks this season – not too shabby.
Dark Horse Pick
I will start with my Dark Horse this week because there should be no other guy in anyone’s discussions of which non-Chase driver could win the Bank of America 500 tomorrow night. Kasey Kahne is fourth among all active drivers with a driver rating of 94.5, behind Jimmie Johnson (112.8), Kyle Busch (106.5), and Joey Logano (96.5) at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Kahne became the first driver to be “Voted-Into” the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star Race in May of 2008, and come home a winner. He then went on to win the Coke 600 the following week, successfully sweeping the May races here at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2008.
Kahne was the fastest car on the track after his 31 practice laps yesterday, and is shown second on the speed charts in this first of two practice sessions as I look out the window of the Media Center here on the infield. He has three wins here at The Beast of the Southeast, but hasn’t won here since his 2088 Coke 600 Victory.
Kahne felt good about his car following his qualifying lap last night during Bojangle’s Pole Night: “We were really good in practice today in qualifying and in race trim. We didn’t go quite as fast tonight as we would have liked to. I think in the race it should be really good. We just need to keep up with the track and keep up with keeping the track position and things throughout the race. We’ll have a good shot.”
Kasey Kahne is eager to leave Red Bull Racing on a high note, and a win in the Bank of America 500 Saturday Night would do just that. Be ready for some fireworks centered around the No. 4 car tomorrow night.
One of the keys to victory here at Charlotte Motor Speedway is keeping up with the ever changing track conditions as the sun settles behind the grandstands and the lights come on. The track temperature can really plummet when the sun goes down, and crew chiefs and drivers must be ready to go for when night falls.
One crew chief that will always put his driver in the best possible equipment to cross the Finish Line (the pink colored one this week here at Charlotte) first is Chad Knaus. Across his nine seasons as Crew Chief for the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, Knaus has scooped up 52 victories with Ole’ Five-Time, six of them coming right here at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
He is the best amongst all drivers in the Driver’s Rating category at 112.8, and averages a finish of 10.8 here at Charlotte. He hasn’t won here since the fall race of the 2009 season, but he is coming of a big win last week at Kansas.
I think the comment before the race two weeks ago at Dover International Speedway really put a fire in the belly’s of the No. 48 team, and that is not the guy you want to piss off. With an average finish of 3.7 in the last 5 races of the Sprint Cup Series’ schedule, Johnson is about to come alive.
Johnson sits 10th on the speed charts here after the first practice session of the day and spoke earlier this week about his feelings about Charlotte: “I think we’re going to be a threat (at Charlotte Motor Speedway). When I look back to Chicago, Kentucky, and Kansas obviously, our 1.5-mile stuff has been coming along pretty good over the last two or three months. So I feel good about it. Charlotte, with that asphalt that’s down, it is its own environment and it’s really tough to get your car right from the start of the race to the end of the race. So I feel like directionally we’re going the right way; but until I get on the track this week and understand where the grip level is and what our issues are, it’s hard to build too much confidence.”
That’s all for this week, be sure to follow me on Twitter all night tonight and tomorrow for up to the minute action @ML_B_Lo and OnPitRoad.com for the long story.
Until Next Week….You Stay Classy NASCAR NATION!!!!