|Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his 500th Cup start this week at Charlotte|
Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson remain the "elite among the elite" as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ hits it mid-point with Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET ABC, Performance Racing Network Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio).
The pair retained its one-two rankings but Kenseth’s advantage shrank to three points over Johnson following his 11th-place finish at Kansas Speedway where Johnson ran sixth.
But make no mistake; they are hardly prohibitive favorites to claim this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Seven Chase qualifiers are within 47 points of the top spot. That’s one race worth of championship points.
In 2006, Johnson was ranked eighth after four Chase races. He roared back to erase a 156-point deficit – about 37 points under the current system – to win his first of five consecutive championships.
Sunday’s Kansas victory – his third of the season – provides Kevin Harvick with a huge boost of momentum. He’s third in the standings, 25 points behind Kenseth. Harvick won May’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a race in which Kenseth finished 15th and Johnson 22nd.
With four stops remaining in the NASCAR Nationwide Series campaign, both driver and owner championship races remain tight heading into Friday night’s Dollar General 300 (7:30 p.m. ET ESPN2, Performance Racing Network Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio). Austin Dillon leads Sam Hornish Jr. by eight points while Penske Racing’s No. 22 Ford holds a five-point advantage over the No. 54 Toyota team of Joe Gibbs Racing.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES – BANK OF AMERICA 500, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12, 4 P.M. ET ON ABC
Championship Remains Toss-Up As Kenseth’s Advantage Shrinks
Four races into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™, the 2013 championship remains a toss-up. Seven drivers are within 47 markers of leader Matt Kenseth, whose advantage over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson shrank to three points. After four Chase races in 2006 Johnson sat in eighth place, 156 points back – about 37 points under the current system – but battled back to win his first title in 2006.
Harvick Brings Momentum Eyeing Rare Charlotte Sweep
Kansas winner Kevin Harvick goes for a rare Charlotte Motor Speedway sweep in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500. Harvick – ranked third, 25 points out of the Chase lead – captured his second Coca-Cola 600 at the 1.5-mile track in May. Only two drivers have scored a Charlotte sweep during a championship season – NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty in 1975 and Dale Earnhardt in 1986.
Winner’s Bonus Points Loom Critical In Tight Chase
Will bonus points ultimately determine this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup championship? Jimmie Johnson currently ranks second to Matt Kenseth but has a better average finish in the Chase – 4.0 to the leader’s 5.0. Much of the difference lies in race winner bonus points. Kenseth’s two wins, at Chicagoland and New Hampshire are worth 10 points. Johnson’s Dover victory is worth five points.
Each Of Top Four Chasers Count Multiple Charlotte Wins
Past performances favor Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon maintaining momentum as the Chase hits its mid-point. Each of the top-four ranked Chasers counts multiple Charlotte victories – a combined total of 15. Johnson and NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip are the all-time Charlotte winners with six victories. Gordon has won five times.
After Early Chase Surge, Kyle Busch In Need of Bounce-Back
No driver needs a bounce-back performance this week more than Kyle Busch, whose championship hopes took a hit with a 34th-place finish in Kansas – the track’s third consecutive race in which Busch was felled by accident. Busch dropped from third to fifth in the standings, 35 points behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth. Busch has yet to win at Charlotte and finished 38th in May’s Coca-Cola 600.
‘Best Of The Rest’ McMurray Has Only Charlotte Win by Non-Chaser
It’s been 15 races since the last non-Chase qualifier won a race in NASCAR’s postseason – Kasey Kahne at Phoenix in 2011. Jamie McMurray is the only "outsider" to score a victory in Charlotte’s Chase race, in 2010. McMurray is the highest ranked driver outside the Chase, leading reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski by 20 points. McMurray’s most recent five starts include two top-five finishes.
Two Stars Of The Future Make NASCAR Sprint Cup Debut At Charlotte
NASCAR Nationwide Series competitors Kyle Larson and Brian Scott will make their premier series debut this weekend. Larson, due to take over the No. 42 Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in 2014, will drive the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. Scott will be in the seat of the No. 33 Little Joe’s Racing Chevrolet.
Junior To Make Milestone Start In Bank Of America 500
The Bank of America 500 marks a milestone in the career of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt is due to make his 500th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start in Saturday night’s race. Earnhardt finished sixth in last year’s Charlotte fall race. He has one Coors Light Pole at the track in 2000.