Jimmie Johnson has the Chase lead, and where better for him to go to cement that lead than Lowe’s Motor Speedway, a track he already has five wins at already.
The trip to Charlotte also marks the half way point in the ten race Chase with Johnson in the lead by twelve points from his Hendrick teammate Mark Martin and (arguably) surprise package Juan Pablo Montoya a further 46 points.
However, eight of the 12 contenders already find themselves with three figure deficits to the leaders, and given the phenomenal form of Johnson, Martin and Montoya (the Colombian is the only one with top five finishes in every Chase race so far) have a difficult task ahead if they are to be celebrating after Homestead.
But that doesn’t mean they can’t challenge for the win on Saturday night, with several of those eight drivers with good records at the 1.5 mile track.
Not least amongst these is the driver who sits 11th in the standings—Kasey Kahne.
Kahne has three of his eleven career points wins at the track, including a sweep in 2006 with the old design car. This year, Kahne has been dogged by bad luck in the Chase, an engine failure being followed by being caught in two separate crashes last week in Fontana.
“I really look forward to going to Charlotte,” says Kahne. “It’s been one of my best track since I came into NASCAR. We’ve got a bunch of win there so. We feel like that’s a track where we can gain some points.”
Another driver mired deep in the Chase who could close up to the leaders is Ryan Newman. Newman, who will sport an Optimus Prime livery to promote the DVD release of the Transformers sequel (Jeff Gordon will carry an image of Megatron—I will let the Hendrick haters deliver their own punchline here) won the pole in the 600 mile race in June, before finishing second in the rain shortened race to David Reutimann.
“We were in position to run the all start race,” Newman explains. “We won the pole, we led some laps in the 600. We have a really goo car and program for there,” he continues, before adding that unlike some tracks the difference between the Spring and Fall race are very small.
As well as being a crucial race in the Chase, Charlotte also marks the home track of many of the NASCAR teams that are based around the North Carolina city. “I like going to Charlotte, a lot of the teams are based there, which is always good,” says NC native Brian Vickers.
“I’ve always enjoyed Charlotte. Before the paved it I really liked it, when they paved it kinda had a few rough years, but I think it’s starting to slowly come back into its own.”
But despite the changing track, it looks likely to be the familiar faces of Hendrick drivers Johnson, Martin and Gordon with their strong intermediate track programs that will fight for victory, although Kahne or Newman may try to revive their increasingly dwindling title hopes.
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