There is no denying just how great the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup has been, thus why driving driving well at the Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend is just as important.
We have pretty much seen it all in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup, from drivers winning back-to-back races (Tony Stewart), to a driver who is contending for his sixth-straight championship. What more could you ask for in NASCAR’s version of the ‘playoffs’?
This has been a wild season, dating back to Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 win last February. Not only has it been wild, but this season has been a season of firsts. With Bayne winning his first career NSCS race at Daytona, Regan Smith winning his first career race at Darlington, David Ragan winning his first career race at Daytona (July), why not expect the unexpected this weekend in Charlotte?
Charlotte, North Carolina will forever be known as the ‘hub’ of NASCAR, which is why you see the action you do at this historic track. With the added Chase format this year, it has made it all that more exciting, as we are witnessing on of the closest Chase’s in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.
The top-four drivers in the current points standings are only separated by 11 points, but realistically any driver in the top-nine in points, (Currently Dale Earnhardt Jr. is P9, only 43 points out) theoretically has a shot at winning the most treasured trophy in all of motorsports.
So, what has made this season ‘better’ when it comes to racing? Could it be that consistency is valued far more than actual wins? Granted, every driver wants a win not only for themselves, but also for their fans, teams and sponsors, but this has allowed drivers actually fighting for position. This one change has can totally shake the outcome of the championship, especially at the race this weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Why am I harping on this? Simple. There are 12 drivers in the Chase all fighting for the best finish they can to gain some points before we head into Talladega next weekend (where it’s literally a ‘crap-shoot’). Needless to say, if you want a decent finish in the Chase, Charlotte is crucial because you could possibly lose anything you gain next weekend if you get caught up in the ‘Big One’.
Just looking at the top-12, we see several drivers who have won at this treasured track, located in the heart of the ‘Tar Heel’ state. Drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick (winner of the 2011 Coca-Cola 600), Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and the list goes on.
Drivers look at Charlotte as that ‘one track’ where they could get that head-start heading into the final five races of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Not to mention, NASCAR teams aren’t stupid either. They know that the majority of the schedule is made up of 1.5-mile race tracks, so why not make that as your primary focus?
Roush Fenway Racing has done just that. Jack Roush has made this his mission to have all four of his cars competing for wins at tracks like Charlotte, Las Vegas, Atlanta and Texas. While knowing that, when making your picks for the 2011 version of the “Bank of America 500,” I advise you to not count out the Ford’s especially with the FR9 engines they have made so popular at these tracks.
Hendrick Motorsports has also made Charlotte Motor Speedway a track of ‘their own’. Johnson had tremendous success here from 2003-2007, as “Lowe’s Motor Speedway” was known as the “House that Jimmie built,” during that time. Since then, Johnson has had some success, but not like he has had in seasons past. Gordon has won here as well (October of 2007). However, this season is much different. Both Gordon and Johnson are stronger than they have been in years past, especially now in the Chase. Oh, and who could count out Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Did we forget that Junior almost won the Coca-Cola 600, if it had not been for running out of fuel on the last lap? This could be Junior’s race to lose, which is a storyline all in itself.
Even though I personally think a Chase driver will win this weekend, I do believe there are some ‘non-Chasers’ that will contend for the win. Drivers like Kasey Kahne, David Reutimann, Martin Truex Jr., or even a driver like Clint Bowyer could have success here and celebrate in Victory Lane.
Having said all of that, I’ll close with this- It’s far too early to count out anyone in the Chase, as some of us made that mistake before with Johnson. Also, when making your picks for the “Bank of America 500,” you can’t really go wrong with anyone in the top-12 of the points standings.
I expect this race to be filled with both excitement and suspense, as it has the possibility of keeping us on the edge of our seats up until the last lap. Whatever happens, I can assure you there will be a shake-up in the Chase once more, as that seems to be a trend that will never end.