By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
With the first round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup 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 Saturday night’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 Kansas and Talladega 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.
The Bank of America 500 is the only night race of the Chase, making for a short week of preparation after last week’s race at Dover, especially with race week activities starting on Thursday. 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.
By the Numbers
Track Size: 1.5-mile quad oval (Turns: 24 degrees; Straights: 5 degrees)
Race Length: 334 laps, 501 miles
May 2016 Race Winner: Martin Truex Jr. – No. 78 Toyota (Started First, 392 laps led)
October 2016 Race Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started Third – 227 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Kurt Busch – No. 41 Chevrolet (27.167 seconds, 198.771 mph – 10/9/2014)
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings:
- No. 48 Chevrolet – Jimmie Johnson – 109.6
- No. 18 Toyota – Kyle Busch – 104.6
- No. 11 Toyota – Denny Hamlin – 95.6
- No. 20 Toyota – Matt Kenseth – 95.4
- No. 5 Chevrolet – Kasey Kahne – 95.2
- No. 22 Ford – Joey Logano – 94.5
- No. 19 Toyota – Carl Edwards – 90.9
- No. 2 Ford – Brad Keselowski – 89.7
- No. 4 Chevrolet – Kevin Harvick – 88.8
- No. 16 Ford – Greg Biffle – 88.0
From the Driver’s Seat
“I think the biggest challenge about Charlotte is how much the track changes from practice. You practice all during the day and then you go into night racing. You’ve got to know what kind of adjustments to make to your car and how well you can race at night. Typically, you go back to your night notes. For us, we’ve run well there in the past and like going there. It’s a fun place to race and adds to the excitement of spending some time at home,” said Kyle Busch.
2015 Bank of America Flashback
Last year’s running of the Bank of America 500 would be delayed until Sunday afternoon after torrential downpours on Saturday night forced the postponement of the race. When the race started under bright, sunny skies on Sunday, two drivers established themselves as the class of the field: Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick.
Logano started the day in third and quickly established himself as one of the fastest cars on track. Moving into the lead for the first time at lap 77, Logano was untouchable, as he was pursued throughout the day by the No. 4 car of Harvick. Logano only lost the lead during cycles of green flag pit stops and each cycle, Logano would find himself pulling further and further away from the field. In the end, Logano would lead 227 of the 334 laps in the race to score his first win at Charlotte and his Eliminator Round clinching win. That marked two years in a row that Logano had won the opening race of the second round of the Chase to move on.
“We had a great car. Todd Gordon and this Shell/Pennzoil team, all of Team Penske, you always want to win it. Charlotte is everybody’s home turf and you want to make it happen here. What a great car. We led a ton of laps and I just have to thank Ford and Shell and AutoTrader, SKF, Coca-Cola – everyone that supports what we’re doing. This makes Talladega way easier. I know that’s on everyone’s mind when this round starts and last year we won Kansas when it was the first race of this round and now we were able to get it this time at Charlotte. We’ll get lots of sleep here the next couple of weeks,” said Logano.
Who to Watch
- Joey Logano – Logano return to the track that kicked off his winning streak through the second round of the Chase last season hoping to accomplish the same feat this time around. With his 2015 win, five top-five finishes, nine top-10 finishes, 248 laps led, and an average finish of 9.5 in 15 starts, Logano finds himself at the top of the board among his Cup Series peers at Charlotte.
- Carl Edwards – Winner of the 2015 Coca-Cola 600, Edwards will be looking to add another win to his resume this season with another strong run at Charlotte. In addition to his one win, Edwards has seven top-five finishes, 15 top-10 finishes, 137 laps led, and an average finish of 10.9 in 23 starts.
- Denny Hamlin – One of the few Chase drivers without a win at Charlotte, Hamlin will be looking to remedy that on Saturday night by punching his ticket to the Round of Eight. In 22 starts, Hamlin has six top-five finishes, 14 top-10 finishes, one pole, 240 laps led, and an average finish of 12.4.
- Austin Dillon – Dillon was able to race his way into the Round of 12 last weekend at Dover and if he is going to be able to make it into the Round of Eight, a good run at Charlotte is crucial in gaining valuable points. In his five starts at the track, Dillon has improved his finishes at the track over the years, scoring his first top-10 finish in this race one year ago and bringing home a 12th place finish in May.
- Jimmie Johnson – For years, Jimmie Johnson owned Charlotte Motor Speedway and was always a contender for the win each time the series rolled into the track. These days, it’s more of a rollercoaster for Johnson and his No. 48 team at Charlotte, but the team will be looking to hit one of their peaks this weekend and not get mired in one of the valleys instead. Johnson has seven wins at the track (2003, 2004 sweep, 2005 sweep, 2009, and 2014), 14 top-five finishes, 18 top-10 finishes, four poles, 1740 laps led, and an average finish of 13.0 in 30 starts.
- Honorable Mention: Martin Truex, Jr. – To say that Martin Truex, Jr. opened a can of whoop ass on the field in the Coca-Cola 600 earlier this season at Charlotte would be an understatement. From the drop of the green flag, Truex was absolutely unstoppable, leading 392 of 400 laps en route to his first win at the track. After kicking off the first round of the Chase with a win, Truex will be looking to repeat his Coca-Cola 600 performance on Saturday night with a season sweep at Charlotte. Along with his win in May, Truex also has three top-five finishes, which have come in his last three starts at the track, as well as seven top-10 finishes, one pole, 532 laps led, and an average finish of 16.4 in 22 starts.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Thursday, October 6
- NSCS Practice (1:30 pm to 2:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- NSCS Qualifying (7:20 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Friday, October 7
- NSCS Practice (3:30 pm to 4:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- NSCS Final Practice (6:30 pm to 7:20 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Saturday, October 8
- NSCS Bank of America 500 (6:45 pm – 334 laps, 501 laps – NBC)