Charlotte II: Series round 31 preview

* Saturday Night Under The Lights At Charlotte * Kurt Busch Seeks Unprecedented Charlotte Sweep * Stewart Could Be A Comeback Kid Six To Go: Chase Overview With most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams based in the greater Charlotte, N.C., area, ...

* Saturday Night Under The Lights At Charlotte
* Kurt Busch Seeks Unprecedented Charlotte Sweep
* Stewart Could Be A Comeback Kid

Six To Go: Chase Overview

With most NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams based in the greater Charlotte, N.C., area, Saturday's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway means backyard bragging rights and all the accompanying territorial glory.

For some drivers, it also means another step toward -- or away -- from the 2010 series title.

Who's in the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup catbird's seat? Right now, four-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet), who heads to Charlotte in the Chase lead for the second consecutive week.

It's not a gulf, yet. The top five drivers in the standings are separated by only 107 points, with the four directly under Johnson within striking distance, with six Chase races remaining.

Second-place Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota), who began the Chase as its top seed, trails Johnson by 36 points. Hamlin and Johnson are tied with a series-high six wins this season; one expects them to be there.

One also expects third-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet), who led the standings for much of the regular season (20 out of 26 weeks), to be in the mix, and he is.

Harvick trails Hamlin by 18 points, Johnson by 54. In fourth is the other four-time series champion, Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), who trails Harvick by 31 points and Johnson by 85.

In fifth is Tony Stewart (No. 14 Old Spice Chevrolet), the winner last Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. The two-time series champion trails Gordon by 22 points and Johnson by 107.

Kurt Busch Aims For First Triple Sweep At Charlotte

The aforementioned backyard bragging rights will acquire some extra luster if Kurt Busch (No. 2 Operation Home Front/Miller Light Dodge) pulls into Victory Lane on Saturday night.

Busch, sixth in the Chase standings and 140 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson, could become the first driver to sweep all three single-season NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He pocketed the first two in May, winning the non-points NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race on May 22 and followed with a victory in the Coca-Cola 600 on May 30.

"To have my shot at it here in 2010, we're definitely going to give it all we've got," Busch said. "The best part about it is if we're able to do that and pull it off, that only helps us for our chances for the championship this season."

It's the seventh time since the all-star event's 1985 debut that a driver has the opportunity to sweep Charlotte's three series races: Darrell Waltrip in 1985, Davey Allison in 1991, Dale Earnhardt in 1993, Dale Jarrett in 1997, Johnson in 2003 and Kasey Kahne (No. 9 Budweiser Ford) in 2008.

Kurt's brother Kyle (No. 18 M&M's Toyota), also a Chase competitor, hopes to sweep both 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series events at Charlotte.

This Week's Chase Comeback Kid: Tony Stewart

Each week in the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, someone has claimed -- or reclaimed -- momentum and all that goes with it.

Four weeks ago in the Chase opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, 12th-seeded Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) triumphed, jumping all the way to second place in the standings.

A subsequent penalty stemming from post-race inspection at the NASCAR Research & Development Center cost him 150 points in the driver standings and team owner Richard Childress 150 in the owner standings, but at New Hampshire, Bowyer began a trend of statement wins that has endured in the three weeks since.

At Dover, Jimmie Johnson resurged after a quiet summer, winning from the pole and hushing speculation that he and his Hendrick Motorsports team might not be a factor.

At Kansas, Greg Biffle (No. 16 Scotch Blue Ford) dominated, his win boosting him one spot in the Chase standings and keeping him within striking distance of Johnson, now the leader.

Last week at Auto Club Speedway, it was Tony Stewart's turn.

The two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion won when he most needed it, jumping five spots in the Chase standings to fifth, and minimizing the frustration of a slow Chase start.

Stewart made more good news on Tuesday, when he announced the signing of Exxon-Mobil to a multi-year sponsorship agreement with Stewart-Haas Racing beginning in 2011.

Mobil 1 will serve as the co-primary sponsor for Stewart's No. 14 team in 11 races and as an associate sponsor in 25 races, plus two non-points event. The brand also will serve as an associate sponsor on teammate Ryan Newman's No. 39 Haas-Automation Chevrolet.

Don't shrug off the possibility of a Stewart comeback. He's made up 55 points on the Chase leader -- first Denny Hamlin, now Johnson -- over the last two weeks. And he has a total of eight career wins at the last six race tracks on the schedule, including Charlotte. The others are (in order) Martinsville Speedway (another Stewart stronghold), Talladega Superspeedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Stewart aside, who else could make this week's statement at Charlotte?

Best to start at the top, where Johnson is tied with a pair of fellow NASCAR Sprint Cup champions, Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison, for the most wins there -- six each.

Jeff Gordon is next, with five career wins.

History isn't on the side of teams who must win to remain Chase-viable -- Roush Fenway Racing's Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford), Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) and Biffle. Of the three, only Kenseth has won at Charlotte -- the 2000 Coca-Cola 600.

"Voting Day" For NASCAR Hall Of Fame

Wednesday is another important day for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which opened in May in downtown Charlotte, N.C.

It's "Voting Day," which means five people will be selected to be enshrined next May as the 2011 honorees.

NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., his son, Bill France Jr., who led the sport for more than 30 years, legendary team owner and driver Junior Johnson and seven-time champions Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt were enshrined this May as the Hall's inaugural class.

On Wednesday, voters will select from a pool of 25 nominees. The NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel includes the Nominating Committee and 31 others representing NASCAR, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, major race track ownership groups, retired drivers, owners and crew chiefs along with motorsports media representatives.

They'll meet in a closed session Wednesday to deliberate and vote on the 2011 class, which will be announced at a 4 p.m. ET press conference at the Charlotte Convention Center.

The panel's 53 votes, plus the nationwide fan vote, will decide the five-person class.

Charlotte A Good Time For RCR Stand

Saturday night's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway may represent a full circle of sorts for Richard Childress Racing.

Team owner Richard Childress has spoken of standing on a transporter in May 2009 at Charlotte and realizing the overhaul required to propel his teams back into the Chase spotlight.

Fast-forward 17 months and all three of Childress' NASCAR Sprint Cup teams are Chase participants; two in 2010 contention.

Kevin Harvick perhaps is working on a career year. He's third in the Chase standings, with three wins, 13 top fives and 20 top 10s.

Jeff Burton (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) is the other RCR driver of Chase note. He's eighth in the standings, 177 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

Both need to make charge. Harvick has finishes of fifth, 15th, third and seventh, respectively, in the four Chase events thus far. Burton has struggled a bit more with finishes of 15th, second, 18th and 23rd.

Charlotte would be notable if either driver breaks through there. Burton has the advantage, with three career wins at the 1.5-mile speedway -- his most recent win, in fact, in October 2008.

"Charlotte is a good race track for us," Burton said. "We typically run well there. We haven't run well there recently, but we feel it's a good race track for us. Despite being very difficult to drive, it's a solid track for us."

Harvick hasn't won at Charlotte. His best finish there -- second -- came in his first NASCAR Sprint Cup start there, in May 2001. He did win the 2007 non-points NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Star Race at Charlotte.

"A top-10 finish would be like a win," Harvick said. "That's our goal for the weekend is to run in the top 10 and have a solid day. Obviously you want to win every weekend, but our history at Charlotte has not been good, so I think a goal of finishing in the top 10 is more realistic."

He also has peace about his position in the 2010 Chase.

"I feel really comfortable where I am," Harvick said. "I feel like we've been through a lot of these situations before. I feel like we've run better this year and been more consistent. I know that we've started the Chase better than we've ever started before.

"It seems like looking back at our performance, the last four or five races are our strength based upon the last few times that we've been in the Chase. You never know how it's all going to shake out, but I feel really good about the situation that we're in as a team, and we will just go race every week as hard as we can."

In The Loop: Charlotte Spoilers Could Surprise

Those outside the championship hunt still have much to race for: pride, sponsors, the team.

It's an all-or-nothing outlook, where wins are everything.

A so-called "spoiler" hasn't won a race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup since Jamie McMurray's victory at Talladega last season. A Chaser has won each of the first four Chase races this season.

And though, once again, the Chase competitors hold a statistical edge at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a dark horse winner wouldn't be all that surprising.

Here are a few of the spoiler candidates:

Joey Logano: Logano has momentum, tallying seven top fives in his brief NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career. Two have come in the last five races (a fourth at Richmond and a third at Dover).

Over the last five races, Logano has a Driver Rating of 85.7 and an Average Running Position of 15.2. His season numbers before: a Driver Rating of 75.8 and an Average Running Position of 18.2.

Another reason to believe: Logano's numbers at Charlotte are likewise strong. Statistically, Charlotte is his best track. He has a Charlotte Driver Rating of 100.2, by far his best among the 22 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tracks. Logano has scored two top 10s in his three CMS starts, and has not scored a Driver Rating lower than 96.0.

Kasey Kahne: It has been a mostly down year for Kahne, but a fourth-place finish at Auto Club Speedway last Sunday could spark some momentum. And, like Logano, Charlotte is Kahne's top track in terms of Driver Rating. At Charlotte, Kahne has a Driver Rating of 100.4, and an Average Running Position of 11.6. Kahne has finished in the top 10 in seven of his last night CMS events.

Mark Martin: At Auto Club Speedway, Martin nabbed his first top-10 finish in the last eight races, so maybe his season will turn around. Martin has four career Charlotte victories, but none since 2002.

On The Line: Carl Edwards

Carl Edwards was this week's guest on the NASCAR Teleconference on Tuesday. Following are some excerpts.

Q: You're 162 points out of first place with six to go. Guess it's time to start a rally, right?

Carl Edwards: "Yeah, it's definitely time to start a rally. We went into California and we felt that

that was going to be the race that would put us up there, you know, to the lead, or close to it.

"We had trouble with a part and a distributor, which is something that I don't think I've ever had before. I don't think I've ever had that particular part take me out of a race.

"Now we have six races left to go run the way we know we can run, and if we can maybe reel off a couple of wins and have some top fives and Jimmie [Johnson] can have a little bit of trouble, then, you know, I think it could still be anyone's race."

Q: Jimmie Johnson left Loudon 92 points behind Denny Hamlin but it only took him two races to make up 100 points on Denny. Any reason why in two races you can't make up that same 100 points on Jimmie?

Carl Edwards: "There's no reason why it can't happen, other than Jimmie Johnson and those guys just seem to have an ability to overcome or to not have to deal with the bad luck that a lot of other teams have to deal with.

"I think we saw this weekend that the mathematical possibilities that can happen. Our team went from where we were -- I think we were 53 points out, to 162 points out in one week -- at a track that really should have been kind of a gimmie for us. We run very well at California.

"You know, statistically or mathematically,anyone could be leading the Chase in three races. So we just have to keep that in mind and going forward. And racing is a very, very humbling sport. You can do everything right and you can have things not go your way. But the only way to make sure you have success is to do everything right and hope for the best."

Q: You said that this week's race in Charlotte was going to be a struggle, but outside of that, are there any tracks where you say, okay, this is maybe our best opportunity?

Carl Edwards: "Charlotte is an unknown. I just don't know what's going to happen. We have been on and off there. But you know, if you look at Texas - you're familiar with how we have run there. It's been spectacular.

"So I look forward to that one. Homestead, championship weekend, that's been great for Roush Fenway Racing and even Phoenix and Talladega, I feel like I've learned a lot at those places.

"Matt Kenseth almost won Martinsville in the spring. I feel that our team can do it. The problem is when they pull that green flag and everyone goes four-wide down at the corner - you just don't know what's going to happen."

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

Milestones: Jeff Gordon's next win, which will be his 83rd, will tie NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Cale Yarborough for fifth on the all-time list.

Jimmie Johnson's next win, which will be his 54th, will tie Hall of Fame nominee Lee Petty for ninth on the all-time list.

Tony Stewart's next win will be his 40th.

His win at Auto Club Speedway last week (his 39th) tied him with Hall of Fame nominee Tim Flock at 17th on the all-time list.

Other drivers pursuing milestones:

Two -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet) and Kevin Harvick -- are going for 150 top 10s;

Kasey Kahne is going for 50 top fives;

Bobby Labonte (No. 10 Gander Mountain Outdoors Chevrolet) is going for 200 top 10s;

Mark Martin (No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet) is going for 50 Coors Light poles.

Mark Your Calendars: Darrell and Michael Waltrip have scheduled the First Annual Waltrip Brothers Charity Championship event on Oct. 27-28 in Nashville, Tenn.

It includes the Waltrip Brothers' Champion's Dinner presented by Aaron's, on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010 at the Hutton Hotel, and the Waltrip Brothers' Charity Championship golf tournament, on Thursday, Oct. 28th, 2010 at Gaylord Springs Golf Links. Both events will benefit Motor Racing Outreach (MRO) and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS).

The Champion's Dinner will feature the Waltrip brothers, Capitol Records artist Luke Bryan, Lonestar's Richie McDonald, and American stand-up comedian Henry Cho.

Three individuals will be honored -- the Waltrips' sister, Connie Waltrip Brinkley, former Vanderbilt University football coach George MacIntyre and MRO President Billy Mauldin.

The golf tournament will be a "no mulligan" format.

"Having a golf tournament of this caliber has always been a dream of mine and Michael's," Darrell Waltrip said. "Motor Racing Outreach has served the NASCAR community for many years, and we felt compelled to create a fundraiser to assist in their operational costs."

"Additionally, it is extremely important to us that we generate support for the National MS Society's efforts to drive research and assist in the challenges of the disease because we have seen first-hand the challenges that our sister Connie faces daily."

Visit www.waltripbrothers.com for more information.

Calling All Costumes: Fans seeking a dry-run dress-up for Halloween can participate in Charlotte Motor Speedway's "Dress Like Your Favorite Driver" contest on Friday. It takes place at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Ticket Office on the second floor of the Smith Tower. Participants must register at 11:45 a.m., with first-round judging for three finalists at 12:15 p.m., and final-round judging at 12:30. A separate contest will be held for children aged 12 and younger.

The judges include track president Marcus Smith and WSOC-FM and WFNZ-AM personalities.

The grand prize? Four Clubhouse seats for Saturday night's race, plus other perks.

Up Next: Martinsville

Back-to-basics time for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, which moves to historic Martinsville Speedway for the TUMS Fast Relief 500 on Sunday, Oct. 24 (1 p.m., ESPN).

The .526-mile track will host the sixth of 10 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup events; the series has raced at Martinsville since 1949. Its paper clip shape and tight corners mean tough, technical racing.

Denny Hamlin is the defending race winner.

Ryan Newman (No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet) is the defending pole winner.

Richard Petty leads all drivers with 15 wins at Martinsville. Darrell Waltrip leads with eight career poles there. Petty also claims the most top fives (30) and top 10s (37).

Jeff Gordon leads all active drivers with seven Martinsville wins, 23 top fives and 29 top 10s. He and Geoff Bodine each have seven poles there. Petty leads owners with 19 Martinsville wins.

Fast Facts

The Race: Bank of America 500
The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway; Concord, N.C. (1.5-mile tri-oval)

The Date: Saturday, Oct. 16
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 501 miles / 334 laps

TV: ABC, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN/Sirius NASCAR Radio, Channel 128.

2009 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson
2009 Winner: Jimmie Johnson

Schedule Prior To Race Day:
Thursday--Practice, 3:30-5 p.m.; Qualifying, 7:10 p.m.
Friday--Practice, 5-5:45 p.m. and 6:20-7:20 p.m.

-source: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Greg Biffle , Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Richard Petty , Kasey Kahne , Carl Edwards , Bobby Allison , Clint Bowyer , Denny Hamlin , Joey Logano , Cale Yarborough , Tim Flock , Mark Martin , Lee Petty , Davey Allison
Teams Richard Childress Racing , Hendrick Motorsports , Roush Fenway Racing