Bank of America 500 Preview: Halfway to the Championship

Bank of America 500 Preview: Halfway to the Championship

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

We've reached the mid-point in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. This weekend's event at Charlotte Motor Speedway is race five of 10 in the playoff format that crowns the Sprint Cup Series champion. This will be the third of five intermediate oval events in the Chase and we should be able to examine the results at Chicago and this past weekend at Kansas for a good indicator of what could happen this Saturday night. Even more applicable could be the results from the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in late August. Since the oval at Atlanta has higher banking than Chicago or Kansas, the performances there could even more closely mirror what could happen this weekend at Charlotte. This comparison doesn't stop there. The race at AMS a few weeks ago was also under the lights at night much like this weekend's race at Charlotte. Kasey Kahne marched into victory lane for the first time this season at Atlanta with a very impressive performance. He out-battled and out-witted Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin to win that Sunday evening in the 500-mile event at AMS. Considering that the No. 5 Chevrolet team is trying to climb back into the championship picture after the sub-par Kansas performance, we expect Kahne to rebound and to be a factor again at Charlotte Motor Speedway this Saturday night. However, he wasn't the only Chevrolet driver of note that night at Atlanta. Kevin Harvick led 195 laps from the pole before bad luck would relegate him to a 19th-place finish. Had the breaks fell the other way the outcome could have been completely different. Harvick sits sixth in the Chase Standings as we visit Charlotte this weekend and fresh off another dominant performance at Kansas. The Stewart Haas Racing star will battle with the Hendrick boys and Penske boys once again this Saturday night at CMS.

Even though the intermediate oval at Charlotte is similar to both Atlanta Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway in many respects, we still need to take a long look at the recent track history of Charlotte Motor Speedway. As you'll see in the table below, we do have a few drivers that struggled at Kansas, but they are historically good plays at the track in Charlotte. Here are the loop stats for the last 19 races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Jimmie Johnson12.29686838975,988112.7
Kyle Busch13.79734608625,291106.3
Kasey Kahne10.48336658944,564101.7
Matt Kenseth13.98423764344,64997.1
Denny Hamlin13.77492351654,58692.6
Greg Biffle16.36903034373,89189.9
Carl Edwards11.48061291104,28089.8
Jeff Gordon18.17772433224,22889.7
Joey Logano10.55445032,21588.0
Brad Keselowski15.73921262061,83385.4
Clint Bowyer15.65951131163,28783.5
Tony Stewart16.56561902873,40783.4
Kurt Busch20.56102044513,50283.0
Brian Vickers20.23602023322,05682.8
Kevin Harvick15.46991311323,92381.5
Dale Earnhardt Jr.21.86231831583,20680.9
Jeff Burton15.7559106782,95880.3
Jamie McMurray19.36221541622,79678.3
Ryan Newman18.2599791393,20778.1
Martin Truex Jr.18.76016193,45276.5

Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing and Stewart Haas Racing have each had quite a bit of success at CMS the last few seasons. These two Chevrolet and one Ford stable have accounted for three of the last four victories at the 1.5-mile oval in North Carolina. It was the Jimmie Johnson show in the Coca-Cola 600 in May of this year. He took the lead from Matt Kenseth during the final green-flag run and cruised home to the victory, his seventh-career win at the Charlotte oval. The No. 48 team hasn't shown the winning touch in quite a while, so prospects of a season-sweep are not very likely. Coming off the big win at Kansas Speedway, Joey Logano has to be striding high coming to CMS this weekend. Although Logano was the victor, it was a race dominated by four different drivers. Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Jamie McMurray all did their best to seize the checkered flag at the Kansas oval. These four drivers led a combined 255 of the 267 laps. While last week's race didn't come down to fuel mileage and pit strategy, don't rule that out this Saturday night at Charlotte. Certainly fuel mileage and pit strategy have been a recent theme at this facility. We've seen hearts broken and unlikely winners at Charlotte in recent years, and often times it comes down to one or two laps of fuel to decide which fate of the two. Who will win on Saturday in the Bank of America 500? Will Penske Racing get Logano or Brad Keselowski back to victory lane? Or will rival Chevrolet drivers Jeff Gordon and Johnson surprise and take a trip to winner's circle? Will Kasey Kahne break out of his slump and return to victory lane at an oval that has held so much success for him? Will championship contender Harvick continue his red hot Chase performance? We'll run down the list of race contenders, Chase contenders and others who you need to dominate your fantasy racing leagues this weekend.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Joey Logano -
Logano has been upstaging his champion teammate, Brad Keselowski, all season, and that theme should continue at the Charlotte oval this weekend. He comes to Charlotte first in the Chase standings and looking to put another trophy in his personal collection. The driver of the No. 22 Ford has two victories and five Top-5 finishes in the eight intermediate oval races of 2014, including the win this past weekend at Kansas Speedway. Logano's Charlotte stats are rock-solid with three Top 5 and six Top 10's in 11 career starts at the famous North Carolina oval. His 12th-place finish in May's Coca-Cola 600 at CMS fell short of expectations, but he should make up for that in a big way this weekend. We expect Logano to be a top contender to win the Bank of America 500.

Kevin Harvick -
Harvick is trying to become a factor in the championship picture, and CMS promises to be a potential boost for the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet. He leads all drivers in laps led on these style ovals in 2014 but has no victories for one reason or another. The veteran driver has two career victories and 10 Top-10 finishes at the 1.5-mile oval. His most recent outing at this track in May saw him lead 100 laps and finish runner-up in the Coca-Cola 600. That was one of five runner-up finishes this season for the No. 4 team, two coming on 1.5-mile tracks similar to Charlotte. This SHR driver has the momentum and speed coming into the Bank of America 500.

Jeff Gordon -
No one has more Top 10's than Gordon among active drivers at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He is also a five-time winner at the North Carolina oval, and as recently as 2007. Intermediate ovals have been excellent venues for the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team this season. Gordon has one win and six Top 10's in his eight 1.5-mile oval starts. The Hendrick Motorsports star was in the running to win at Kansas Speedway this past weekend, but tires and bad luck were not on his side. We expect Gordon to challenge for the victory again in Saturday night's Bank of America 500.

Brad Keselowski -
The Penske Racing star is the winningest driver in the series this season on the intermediate ovals. Keselowski has three wins (Las Vegas, Kentucky and Chicago) at these style tracks this season. He had a tough outing at Kansas this past week thanks largely to tire problems on his No. 2 Ford. He'll look to overcome that in Charlotte this weekend. Keselowski won this event one year ago for his first victory at CMS, and he led 43 laps here in May en route to a 10th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. With the championship still looming large, and motivation to get that win and automatic bid to the next round of the Chase, we expect Keselowski to be one motivated driver in this 500-mile event.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the Top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Kyle Busch -
Busch has been successfully building some momentum and team chemistry during this season's Chase. He claimed his fourth-straight Top 10 with a third-place finish at Kansas this past week. Busch sits second overall in the standings and now looms large in the championship picture at Charlotte. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has five Top-10 finishes and 141 laps led on intermediate ovals this season, and he's been a good historical performer at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His impressive 43-percent Top-5 rate at this oval is only bolstered by his recent Charlotte performances. Busch's last six trips to the North Carolina oval have yielded four Top-5 finishes and well over 200 laps led. The No. 18 Toyota team will stay on a roll at CMS.

Matt Kenseth -
Despite the sub-par Kansas finish, Kenseth still boasts the most Top 10's on intermediate ovals this season with seven to-date. His laps led on these 1.5-mile ovals has dropped in 2014, but he's still laboring to the Top-10 finishes by the checkered flag. The veteran comes to a good venue for him and the No. 20 team this Saturday night. Charlotte Motor Speedway has yielded two victories and 16 Top-10 finishes to JGR star over the years. Kenseth led 33 laps here in the spring before events conspired to take him out of the running for the win. He still finished a brilliant third in that Coca-Cola 600. He's a very safe fantasy racing play in this weekend's Charlotte race.

Jimmie Johnson -
The seven-time Charlotte winner has far more than just a win in this weekend's race in mind. Johnson is focused on yet another championship. It will take a couple wins and a reversal of current fortunes to make that happen. Although the vast majority of his success came earlier in his career at this intermediate oval, the No. 48 team has won as recently as this spring at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The six-time champion will definitely use that past experience and his current success at this oval this weekend. Johnson has led almost 300 laps at this speedway during his last two starts, so it wouldn't be that surprising at all to see him challenge for the win in this 500-mile event.

Kasey Kahne -
Kahne and crew chief Kenny Francis have figured something out about Charlotte in the last few years. The veteran driver won three races at CMS between 2006 and 2008 with Evernham Motorsports. He then moved to Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 and promptly won his fourth career Charlotte race in his first start at the facility with the No. 5 Chevrolet team. Over Kahne's 21 career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway he's led well over 1,100 laps, won four victories, and collected 12 Top-10 finishes. He claimed a pair of runner-up finishes last season at this intermediate oval. The struggling Hendrick Motorsports star needs a great performance in the worst way, so we expect the dynamic duo of Kahne and Francis to be on their "A" game this Saturday night.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Charlotte who can provide a solid finish

Denny Hamlin -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star has reversed his fortunes of late on intermediate ovals. After going 0-for-5 on these ovals to start the season, Hamlin has chimed in with Top 10's in his last three starts on these style speedways. In fact, he led 37 laps and finished a brilliant third at the similar oval in Atlanta to kickoff this streak. Hamlin snapped a five-race Top-10 streak at Charlotte during May's Coca-Cola 600. We believe he'll have no problem at all starting another string of Charlotte Top 10's in this Saturday night's Bank of America 500.

Carl Edwards -
While Edwards' championship hopes are not the greatest, his desire to compete and win races are high. His brilliant fifth-place finish at Kansas Speedway this past Sunday is evidence of that. The Roush Fenway Racing star will look to build on that effort with a great performance at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The 1.5-mile tri-ovals have been kind to Edwards over the years. His 12 Top-10 finishes in 19 career starts is a lofty 63-percent rate. While the No. 99 Ford won't be a major contender to win the Bank of America 500, Edwards will be nipping at the heels of the leaders this Saturday night.

Ryan Newman -
The Richard Childress Racing veteran has been a steady hand on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Newman has four Top 10's in those eight events, including the sixth-place finish at Kansas Speedway last weekend. He owns a whopping nine-career pole positions at Charlotte Motor Speedway, so this track has always been a favorite. Newman has claimed Top-10 finishes in two of his last three Charlotte starts, so he's performing well at this facility at present. He hasn't finished outside the Top 15 at this oval since 2011, so that's a pretty good measure of consistency to calm your fantasy racing nerves.

Jamie McMurray -
McMurray has enjoyed some of his greatest success in NASCAR at the oval in Concord, North Carolina. He won his first career Cup race here in 2002 and he's a two-time winner at the track. While his nine Top 10's at this facility happened mostly earlier in his career, McMurray still finishes well in most every Charlotte race. He comes to the Bank of America 500 this Saturday night racing well of late. McMurray finished ninth at Chicago to start the Chase and he led 27 laps at Kansas last week before misfortune led to a poor finish. The CGR veteran led 34 laps and finished fifth in this May's Coca-Cola 600, so there is some major upside with this driver and team this weekend.

Paul Menard -
Looking for a safe sleeper this weekend? Look no further than Menard in your weekly lineup games. The Richard Childress Racing driver has been rediscovering his mo-jo of late. Menard's start at Kansas Speedway this past weekend yielded a steady ninth-place finish. That was his fourth Top 10 of the year on 1.5-mile ovals. These performances are what we've come to expect from the No. 27 team at these facilities. Menard's last three Charlotte efforts have netted one Top-10 and a pair of Top-15 finishes, and we expect much more for Saturday night's Bank of America 500.

Kyle Larson -
The Chip Ganassi Racing rookie has only two career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and they're not the greatest results. Larson finished 37th in this race one year ago for owner Harry Scott, and he finished 18th earlier this season in the Coca-Cola 600. But we're willing to bet his current momentum and body of work on intermediate ovals this season trumps all that. Larson is fresh off a runner-up finish at Kansas Speedway, and that effort gave him three Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes to this point in the season on the 1.5-mile ovals. The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet should impress everyone again Saturday night at Charlotte.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
The Hendrick Motorsports veteran is determined to get the best finish possible in this season's Chase. Earnhardt knows he needs a great performance at Charlotte Motor Speedway to keep that a possibility and to advance to the next round of the Chase. The No. 88 team has never really enjoyed all that much success at this1.5-mile oval, as evidenced by his 38-percent career Top-10 rate at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Only one of his last five trips to CMS has netted Top-10 finishes. Earnhardt's poor finish at Kansas this past week looms large going into this weekend's Bank of America 500.

Clint Bowyer -
The Michael Waltrip Racing veteran continues to struggle this season on the cookie cutter race tracks. Bowyer's eight starts have yielded only one Top-10 finish. His sub-par 18th-place finish at Kansas Speedway this past weekend is one of his better performances on these size tracks in 2014. That's not an acceptable level of performance for this driver and team. Bowyer is normally a decent performer at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he's failed to crack the Top 10 in his last two starts at the facility. Still, his 29-percent career Top-10 rate at CMS is less than assuring given his poor level of performance of late.

Aric Almirola -
After making his first Chase field, but flaming out in the first round, Almirola is trying to steady the ship going into the stretch run of the season. Unfortunately, he imploded at Chicago with an engine failure, then he finished 31st last week at Kansas. So his intermediate oval resume has been a real mess of late. For the season, Almirola has only two Top 10's in the eight events on tracks this size and configuration. His Charlotte numbers are mediocre at best, with only two Top 15's in five career starts. Given the RPM driver's recent struggles, he's a driver to stay clear of this time around.

Kurt Busch -
Busch didn't make the cut to the Contender Round of the Chase, and that may have shown in his performance at Kansas last weekend. A crash and DNF led to a 42st-place finish in the Hollywood Casino 400. Busch faces an uphill battle to rebound as intermediate ovals haven't been the best for him in 2014. He has only one Top-10 finish in eight starts on these style ovals. His Charlotte stats aren't the greatest either. Despite one career victory, he has only a 25-percent Top-10 rate over 28 starts at this facility. There are better options in the field than Busch this Saturday night.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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