Bank of America 500 Preview: Let the Round of 12 Begin

Bank of America 500 Preview: Let the Round of 12 Begin

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

We've reached the second round of the Chase for the Cup. This weekend's event at Charlotte Motor Speedway is race number four of 10 in the playoff format which crowns the Sprint Cup Series champion, and signals the beginning of the Round of 12 as four drivers were eliminated from the field of 16 last week after Dover. This will be the second of five intermediate oval events in the Chase and we should be able to examine the results at Chicago for a good indicator of what could happen this Saturday night.

Even more applicable could be the results from the race at Kentucky Speedway in mid-July. Since that race at Kentucky a couple months ago was also under the lights at night much like this weekend's race at Charlotte. Brad Keselowski marched into victory lane for the fourth time this season at the Sparta oval with a very impressive performance. He out-battled and out-witted Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. to win that Saturday evening in the 400-mile event at Kentucky Speedway. Considering that the No. 2 Ford team is trying to climb back into the championship picture after making the cut into the second round of the Chase, we expect Keselowski to be a big-time player at Charlotte Motor Speedway this Saturday night. However, he wasn't the only driver of note that night at Kentucky. Harvick led 128 laps and finished ninth, due to poor pit and fuel strategy. Had the breaks fallen the other way the

We've reached the second round of the Chase for the Cup. This weekend's event at Charlotte Motor Speedway is race number four of 10 in the playoff format which crowns the Sprint Cup Series champion, and signals the beginning of the Round of 12 as four drivers were eliminated from the field of 16 last week after Dover. This will be the second of five intermediate oval events in the Chase and we should be able to examine the results at Chicago for a good indicator of what could happen this Saturday night.

Even more applicable could be the results from the race at Kentucky Speedway in mid-July. Since that race at Kentucky a couple months ago was also under the lights at night much like this weekend's race at Charlotte. Brad Keselowski marched into victory lane for the fourth time this season at the Sparta oval with a very impressive performance. He out-battled and out-witted Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. to win that Saturday evening in the 400-mile event at Kentucky Speedway. Considering that the No. 2 Ford team is trying to climb back into the championship picture after making the cut into the second round of the Chase, we expect Keselowski to be a big-time player at Charlotte Motor Speedway this Saturday night. However, he wasn't the only driver of note that night at Kentucky. Harvick led 128 laps and finished ninth, due to poor pit and fuel strategy. Had the breaks fallen the other way the outcome could have been completely different. The driver carrying the momentum into Charlotte is Dover race-winner Martin Truex Jr. He easily made the cut for the Round of 12 of the Chase and now comes to Charlotte riding high after his victory at the Monster Mile. He was not a driver of major consequence at Kentucky earlier this summer, but we have a feeling he'll assert his dominance this weekend.

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 23 races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Jimmie Johnson14.41,1307719047,117109.6
Kyle Busch14.31,1365039076,501104.6
Denny Hamlin12.49102922405,94795.6
Matt Kenseth14.69694345325,51695.4
Kasey Kahne12.49227038944,94495.2
Joey Logano9.57431422483,57294.5
Jeff Gordon16.89002893974,96790.9
Carl Edwards10.91,0031871375,42990.9
Brad Keselowski13.95931932173,08589.7
Kevin Harvick13.38993073205,37388.8
Greg Biffle15.87863154374,72088.0
Kurt Busch18.38202875714,94987.8
Martin Truex Jr.16.47702555324,76284.2
Austin Dillon12.81962571,25583.9
Tony Stewart17.76751922873,51979.7
Clint Bowyer17.26331181173,46779.6
Ryan Newman16.7736841404,02579.3
Kyle Larson20.019357899579.3
Jamie McMurray18.37321691673,29478.5
Chase Elliott13.0462025677.7

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 five of the last seven victories at the 1.5-mile oval in North Carolina. However, breaking that trend, it was the Martin Truex Jr. show in the Coca-Cola 600 in May of this year. He set a blistering pace thanks to the lowly four caution periods and went on to set a record for the fastest Charlotte race ever with an average speed of 160.655 mph. Truex led a mind-boggling 392 of the 400 laps and put on one of the most dominant performances in recent NASCAR history to claim his first-career win at the Charlotte oval. The No. 78 team has shown the winning touch four times this season, so prospects of a season-sweep of CMS are pretty likely. Coming off the big win at Dover International Speedway, Truex has to be striding high coming to North Carolina this weekend. Although Truex was the victor, there were three different drivers that could have won at Charlotte in May if the unworldly No. 78 Toyota had not been present. Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin were all on their game that night, but couldn't compete with Truex since he was on a whole other level. These drivers could be in contender status again this week if Truex looks even close to human in the Bank of America 500.

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 Saturday in the Bank of America 500? Will Penske Racing get Joey Logano or Brad Keselowski back into victory lane? Or will rival Chevrolet drivers Harvick or Johnson surprise and take a trip to winner's circle? Will Kasey Kahne continue breaking out of his season-slump and return to victory lane at an oval that has held so much success for him? Will championship contender Kyle Busch 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

Martin Truex Jr. -
Truex's championship chances are growing by the day, the motivation to perform won't be in short supply at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The urgency to advance in the Chase is a powerful motivator. If nothing else, we have to lean on the performance that Truex put on in May at Charlotte. In that jaw-dropping affair the Furniture Row Racing star led 492 of the 500 laps and made it look like he was by himself on this 1.5-mile oval. Truex won on the similar intermediate oval in Chicago to start the Chase for the Cup three weeks ago, and we expect to see that same speed on display at Charlotte Motor Speedway too. Given the momentum and Coca-Cola 600 performance earlier this season, it would seem a season-sweep of the Charlotte oval is in order.

Kevin Harvick -
After a disappointing mechanical failure at the Monster Mile last weekend, Harvick is trying to become a factor in the championship picture with the start of this new round in the Chase. Charlotte Motor Speedway promises to be a potential boost for the driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet. He is second only to Truex Jr. in laps led on these style ovals in 2016 but has no wins to this point. The veteran driver has three-career victories and 14 Top-10 finishes at the 1.5-mile oval in North Carolina. His most recent outing at this track in May saw him finish runner-up to the blazing-fast Truex in the Coca-Cola 600. That was one of six Top-10 finishes this season for the No. 4 team on 1.5-mile tracks similar to Charlotte. This SHR driver has the determination and speed to win coming into the Bank of America 500.

Kyle Busch -
Busch has been successfully building some momentum and team chemistry during this season's Chase. He has claimed a pair of Top-3 finishes and three Top-10 finishes in the opening round of the championship playoff. Busch draws even in the Chase standings after the Round of 16 cut and now looms large in the championship picture once again at Charlotte. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has two victories and four Top-5 finishes in his seven starts on intermediate ovals this season, and he's been a good historical performer at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His impressive 40-percent Top-5 rate at this oval is only bolstered by his recent Charlotte performances. Four of Busch's last six starts at the North Carolina oval have netted Top-11 finishes. The No. 18 Toyota team will stay on a roll at CMS.

Brad Keselowski -
The Penske Racing star has been one of the most consistent drivers in the series this season on the intermediate ovals. Keselowski has two victories and six Top-10 finishes in the seven events on ovals similar to Charlotte Motor Speedway. He had a good outing at Dover this past week finishing an impressive fourth in the Citizen Soldier 400. It was his third-straight Top-5 finish to kick off the Chase for the Cup. Keselowski won this event three years ago for his first victory at CMS, and he finished a strong fifth-place in the Coca-Cola 600 this past May. With the championship still looming large, and motivation to get that win and automatic pass 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

Jimmie Johnson -
The seven-time Charlotte winner checks in on the solid plays list for this event. After Top 10s at Loudon and Dover, Johnson advanced in the Chase at Dover last week. The Hendrick Motorsports star is gathering some momentum heading into the Round of 12. 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 2014 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The six-time champion will definitely use that past experience and his current success at this oval this weekend. Johnson doesn't present his usual fantasy racing must-start status for the Bank of America 500, but he does have tons of upside because of his Charlotte pedigree.

Joey Logano -
Logano has been rock solid consistent on these intermediate ovals this season. What he lacks in terms of wins, he makes up for with laps led and Top-5 finishes. The Penske Racing driver comes to Charlotte in the thick of the championship battle and looking to put another Charlotte trophy in his personal collection. The driver of the No. 22 Ford has three Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes in the seven intermediate oval races of 2016. Logano's Charlotte stats are strong with five Top 5 and nine Top 10s in 15-career starts at the famous North Carolina oval. His ninth-place finish in May's Coca-Cola 600 at CMS fell short of expectations after sitting on the outside pole, but he should make up for that in a big way this weekend. We expect Logano to be racing with the leaders in the Bank of America 500.

Matt Kenseth -
Kenseth boasts four Top 10s in seven starts this season on intermediate ovals. His laps led on these 1.5-mile tracks has dropped in 2016, but he's still laboring to Top-5 and 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 18 Top-10 finishes to JGR star over the years. Kenseth won both pole positions here last season, and he claimed a strong seventh-place finish in May's Coca-Cola 600. With a new round in the Chase beginning and a victory carrying the weight of an automatic ticket to the next round, we expect to see some real urgency from Kenseth and the Joe Gibbs Racing team in this 500-mile battle.

Chase Elliott -
The Hendrick Motorsports rookie is determined to get the best finish possible in this season's Chase. Elliott 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. 24 team has enjoyed a lot of success on the intermediate ovals this season. Elliott has racked up two Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes in the seven events thus far. However, it's his 75-laps led and third-place finish at the similar oval in Chicago to kick off the Chase that speaks volumes of his potential for this race. Elliott qualified 12th and finished eighth in this May's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, so the notes from that effort should come in handy this Saturday night.

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

Denny Hamlin -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star finished sixth-place in the first race of the Chase with his strong performance at the intermediate oval in Chicago. That finish is a good barometer of the No. 11 Toyota team right now on these cookie cutter ovals. Hamlin rides an amazing string of 11 Top-10 finishes in his last 12 starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The veteran driver has led close to 250 laps for his career at this North Carolina oval. Despite never having won at this historic track, it's clear that Hamlin is one of the most consistent drivers in the Sprint Cup Series at this facility. We believe he presents a strong upside fantasy racing play in this Saturday night's 500-mile thriller in Charlotte.

Carl Edwards -
While Edwards' championship hopes are not the greatest, his desire to compete and win races are high. His pole position and strong performance at New Hampshire a couple weeks ago is evidence of that. The Joe Gibbs 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 15 Top-10 finishes in 23-career starts is a lofty 65-percent rate. While the No. 19 Toyota 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.

Kasey Kahne -
Kahne has always been a top performer at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 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 25-career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway he's led over 1,100 laps, won four victories, and collected 13 Top-10 finishes. He's peaking at the right time with Top-10 finishes in four of his last five starts entering this weekend. The struggling Hendrick Motorsports star is in the middle of turning around his season, so we expect Kahne to be on his "A" game this Saturday night.

Kurt Busch -
The Stewart Haas Racing veteran got a bit of a mulligan in the opening round of the Chase, but he performed just well enough to advance into the Round of 12. Busch will hit the reset button this Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The intermediate ovals have been kind this season, and CMS has been a good historical facility for the driver of the No. 41 Chevrolet. Busch has six Top 10s in seven starts on 1.5-mile tracks in 2016. He also rides a three-race Charlotte Top-10 streak into Saturday night's Bank of America 500. Busch has the potential to outperform in this very important race.

Alex Bowman -
The Hendrick Motorsports youngster will be making his fifth start in relief of Dale Earnhardt Jr. this weekend in the No. 88 Chevrolet. The really good news is that in Bowman's four prior starts, the only Top 10 has come on a 1.5-mile oval, which was Chicago to start the Chase. The young driver led 6 laps that day and claimed his first-career Sprint Cup Series Top 10. Bowman will be making his fifth-career Cup start at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend, so he's far from unfamiliar with this track. The even better news is that he'll be easily bringing his fastest car ever to a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. A Top-15 finish seems like a very good possibility for the No. 88 team.

Aric Almirola -
After missing the Chase, Almirola and the No. 43 team could have packed it in for the year, but they have done quite the opposite. The journeyman driver has posted 17th- and 16th-place finishes in the two events leading up to Charlotte, and shown that there's some light at the end of the tunnel. It's been some of the best racing of the season for the Richard Petty Motorsports driver, in what has been an utterly disastrous season. Almirola has nine-career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a top finish of 10th-place in this event one year ago. A Top-15 finish seems like a safe bet, and many fantasy players won't be looking in this driver's direction after the season that he's had 2016.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Clint Bowyer -
The HScott Motorsports veteran continues to struggle this season on the cookie cutter race tracks. Bowyer's seven starts have yielded only one Top-20 finish and an average finish of 26.0. His sub-par 22nd-place finish at Chicago to start the Chase has been indicative of his performances in 2016 on these cookie cutter ovals. 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 six starts at the facility. His 24-percent career Top-10 rate at CMS is less than assuring given his poor level of performance of late.

Jamie McMurray -
After failing to advance in the Chase last week at the Monster Mile, a demoralized McMurray interviewed with the media and then climbed dejectedly into his motorhome. We hope that the disappointment of not advancing doesn't hurt his performance this weekend, but we have to be realistic about the situation. Both Ganassi drivers flamed out after the Round of 16 and that has to be demoralizing to a great extent. Expectations were high with both McMurray and Kyle Larson that they would both have a deep run in the Chase. However, it would not happen. McMurray's intermediate oval performance this season has been inconsistent at best, with one Top 10 in seven starts and a 16.1 average finish. The No. 1 team will likely be battling like mad to crack the Top 20 this Saturday night.

Paul Menard -
Menard and the No. 27 RCR team are struggling to round out their 2016 season. The veteran driver has only one Top-20 finish in his last five races and looking for answers to end the slump coming to Charlotte this weekend. Menard's intermediate oval resume this season is a string of not quite good performances. The seven starts average out to a 22.1 average finish. The Charlotte oval too has been a track of struggles for Menard. He has just two Top 10s in 19-career starts at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It would seem that the chips are stacked against Menard in this one.

Kyle Larson -
After more bad luck at Dover last week, and failing to advance in the Chase, we have to be very wary of the No. 42 team this weekend. Larson's performance this season has really impressed us, but his luck has been terrible at times. Intermediate ovals have been a weakness for Larson this season. In seven starts on ovals of this type he has no Top-10 finishes and a lowly average finish of 22.7. That's a level well below what we expect when we deploy Larson in our fantasy racing lineups. Larson's 20.0-career average finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway is another strike on his chances. It's best to stay clear of him at this point and maybe spot start him later in the Chase.

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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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