Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Up to Speed – Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

With the first round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs complete after last weekend’s race at Dover, NASCAR’s premier division heads home to Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend to kick off the Round of 12 with Sunday’s running of the Bank of America 500.

As the first race in the Round of 12, Charlotte will play a big role in setting up how the remainder of the round will play out at Talladega and Kansas in the next two weeks. The 1.5-mile quad-oval that serves NASCAR’s home base is the centerpiece of the Speedway Motorsports Inc. track lineup and while this race may not get as much buzz as the Coca-Cola 600, it still plays an important role on the schedule.

In order to find victory lane at home in Charlotte, drivers will not only have to battle the track that is one of the most temperature sensitive on the circuit, but they will also have to play the fuel mileage game, as that has determined the winner on several occasions at this track, including this year’s Coca Cola 600.

After getting postponed to Sunday and running as a day race the last two seasons, Charlotte elected to move this year’s race to be a day race as well. Also, this race be the last on the oval configuration as next Fall, the race moves over to the new Charlotte “Roval” for the Bank of America 500.

By the Numbers

What: Bank of America 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 30 of 36

Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway – Concord, North Carolina (First race: 1960)

TV/Radio: NBC, 2:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.5-mile quad-oval

Banking: 24 degrees in turns, five degrees on straightaways

Race Length: 334 laps, 501 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages: 90 laps each; Final Stage: 154 laps

May 2017 Race Winner: Austin Dillon – No. 3 Chevrolet (Started 22nd, two laps led)

October 2016 Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet (Started 11th, 155 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford (27.167 seconds, 198.771 mph – 10/11/2014)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Charlotte:

  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 110.4 (8 wins)
  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 105.6 (Best finish: 2nd)
  • Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 96.1 (2 wins)
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 95.8 (Best finish: 2nd)
  • Erik Jones – No. 77 Toyota – 94.6 (Best finish: 7th)
  • Kasey Kahne – No. 5 Chevrolet – 93.6 (4 wins)
  • Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 91.9 (1 win)
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 89.1 (3 wins)
  • Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 88.0 (1 win)
  • Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 86.9 (1 win)

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:

  1. Martin Truex, Jr. (3059 points)
  2. Kyle Busch (-18)
  3. Kyle Larson (-25)
  4. Brad Keselowski (-39)
  5. Jimmie Johnson (-42)
  6. Kevin Harvick (-44)
  7. Denny Hamlin (-46)
  8. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (-49)
  9. Ryan Blaney (-51)
  10. Chase Elliott (-53)
  11. Matt Kenseth (-54)
  12. Jamie McMurray (-56)

From the Driver’s Seat

“Charlotte has gotten pretty rough over the last couple of years and you need to be able to have your car handle well to get through the bumps, and both ends of the track are quite different,” said Matt Kenseth.  “Charlotte might also be pretty different this weekend since it’s moving to a day race rather than the Saturday night race that we typically have there in October.  This is always just such a track position race. It’s so difficult to pass at Charlotte; one of the toughest tracks we go to, particularly at night.  If you lose that track position at Charlotte, it’s not easy to get it back.  I feel like qualifying is extremely important there, strategy, pit stops, restarts, all those things will all be more important than ever in order to fight to keep that track position.  Getting the balance to be good on both ends of the track is just so hard to hit just right at Charlotte, but if you can get that as well as the set-up just right, we’ve been really successful.”

Last Year’s Results

Much like this season, Jimmie Johnson started off 2016 with a bang, winning three races early in the year only to go through a dry spell that lasted into the second round of the playoffs, but in the first race of the Round of 12, Johnson finally found his way back to victory lane, setting the stage for his run at his record-tying seventh championship.

Taking the lead over Matt Kenseth on a restart with 18 laps to go following Denny Hamlin’s engine expiring and putting fluid down on track, it was all Johnson for the rest of the race, winning for the eighth time at Charlotte and punching his ticket to the Round of 8.

Following Johnson and Kenseth was Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, and Kyle Larson to round out the top-five.

“When you drive for Rick Hendrick and have all the great people at Hendrick Motorsports working for you, the great support from Lowe’s and everyone in their stores and Chevrolet…..there are just so many great people behind us and that support us to make this happen,” said Johnson.  “We knew we would get back.  Yes, it was slower than we wanted it to be but to be here today and have this victory is great.   Thank you to Sprint, to the fans, to Gatorade, and to Valvoline.   This is something very special to our team.”

“We were able to execute all day long here.   You were asking about that restart at the end and the track got so slick that I actually found that restarting on the bottom was a little bit better than what I had up top.  I was able to throw it down to the inside of the 20 in turn three and make the pass, but restarts were really tricky today.  I just really can’t thank everyone enough that supports us and for all the fans that were tuned in today.”

While Johnson was celebrating in victory lane, five other playoff contenders were in a world of hurt. In addition to Hamlin’s early exit, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, and Austin Dillon also ran into trouble.

Harvick had mechanical issues that sidelined him, while Logano, Elliott, and Dillon all were involved in crashes of some sort or another, leaving them behind the eight-ball for the remaining two races of the round.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, October 6

  • MENCS Practice (1:30 pm to 2:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Qualifying (7:20 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, October 7

  • MENCS Practice (11:00 am to 11:50 am – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Final Practice (1:30 pm to 2:20 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, October 8

  • MENCS Bank of America 500 (2:00 pm – 334 laps, 501 miles – NBC)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.