With 288 points left in six races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup trophy and drivers sitting 40 or more points behind leader Brad Keselowski, the next race, the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, is vital.
But only 11 drivers will be seeking Chase points for the next two races as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won’t be competing in Charlotte or the next race in Kansas.
Unfortunately, Earnhardt was diagnosed with two concussions, one from Kansas testing last month and one during the big Talladega crash last week. Earnhardt, who suffers from headaches, explained his medical condition and the Talladega crash.
“You can't layer concussions—it's extremely dangerous,” Earnhardt said. “In the ‘Dega crash I re-injured myself.”
North Carolina neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, a long-term on-track NASCAR physician, recommended that Earnhardt sit out two races.
"As long as you have a headache the brain is not healed,” Petty said.
Certainly NASCAR fans and many others wish Earnhardt a speedy recovery.
For the 11 remaining Chase drivers, the field has spread out since Tallageda with Brad Keselowski increasing his lead to 14 points. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex, Jr., Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth all are more than 40 points behind Keselowski.
Only 48 points are available for the CMS race. The point spread could widen if Keselowski has good results, but if he and the No. 2 team crash or have equipment problems early, a completely different Chase world emerges.
Excluding Keselowski, only 28 points separate those at the top of the leader board from each other.
If Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon have good efforts at CMS, those who are trailing would fall further back. But a good day for all with a bad day for one, Keselowski, would intensify the competition going into the last half of the Chase races.
At CMS, Jimmie Johnson has six wins, Kasey Kahne has four wins and Jeff Gordon has four wins, and all are in the top six poised to move up with a victory.
Fans with tickets for the Charlotte Motor Speedway event this Saturday, October 13 can catch track action on the 1.5-mile quad-oval with 24-degree banking. They can also view highlights on the world’s largest HDTV by Panasonic between turn 2 and turn 3. Fans with normal-sized HDTVs at home can tune in to ABC at 7 p.m.
The top five Chase contenders share their thoughts going into Charlotte.
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Dodge)
“Having a 14-point lead heading into Charlotte is pretty big, for sure,” Keselowski said. “Once we are done at Charlotte we’ll be halfway through the Chase, and while there is still a lot of racing left to go, it’s better than having to dig out of a hole.”
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Chevrolet)
“I love that track,” Johnson said. “We won the All-Star race and ran very good in the 600, so I feel like we’ll be there and be a threat and I need to at this time of the year. We need to be on top of things.”
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota)
It’s a home race for us,” said Hamlin. “Even though it’s not the All-Star race, it’s got an All-Star type feel to it. Obviously, a night race in the Chase is big for any race track, but especially big being in the backyard of everyone’s house. I just look forward to it. We run well there so I’m excited.”
Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Chevrolet)
“It’s great to go back to Charlotte as the defending winner,” Kahne said. “The win in May was a total team effort and was really big for us to get that victory. I think we’ve only gotten stronger since then. I hope we can be back out front and sweep the season here.”
Clint Bowyer (No. 15 Toyota)
“This race at Charlotte is huge—for everybody,” Bowyer said. “Not just for the drivers, but for the team owner, the crew—this is home for all of them. A win here right in your own back yard—it doesn’t get a whole lot bigger than that.”
Many motorsports fans may be spending Saturday night near their own back yards, but NASCAR drivers will, too. While no home field advantage is likely, drivers won’t have to travel far to celebrate or recalibrate for the next race.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained from personal interviews or official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.