NASCAR Chase For The Cup: Charlotte Crunch-Time

Before last week’s race at Talladega, we talked about how difficult it was going to be for drivers beyond leaders Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson to get back into the mix in the NASCAR Chase For The Cup. The events of last Sunday proved the point—Matt Kenseth, trailing in 12th place, won the race, got a 25-car pileup  that further hindered other drivers and still only moved from 72 points out to 62 back.

With only six races left, it’s impossible to see how Kenseth could make up enough ground, and the relatively minimal gain he made also underscores that comfortable position Keselowski has moved into. The leader extended his cushion over Johnson from five to fourteen points, and with the difficulty that exists in making up huge chunks of points, JJ likely needs two weeks of decisively beating Keselowski to turn the tide.

That’s the backdrop on Saturday night as the NASCAR Chase For The Cup arrives in Charlotte for the Bank Of America 500 (7 PM ET, ABC). TheSportsNotebook’s NASCAR consultant, my brother Bill, accurately saw the chaos that went down in Talladega last week, but he doesn’t have similar foreboding predictions for Charlotte.

“It’s a cookie-cutter track,” he said, using the term to describe track structures as generic as the artificial turf baseball stadiums of the 1970s that gave rise to the phrase. Bill opined that the Charlotte track would lend itself to speed and require a good car to pass, meaning those drivers who establish early position are going to be in good shape the rest of the day.

Kasey Kahne won here over Memorial Day weekend, and at fourth place in the standings, he’s one of a group of drivers hoping for a miracle finish. Others in similar position—anywhere from 20 to 50 points off the pace—include Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Martin Truex and Kevin Harvick. Further down the list is Dale Earnhardt Junior, whose slim hopes were officially ended by word this week that he’ll be sidelined for a couple weeks with a concussion.