It’s the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, round two, and the Round of 12 will hopefully take the track Saturday night as Hurricane Matthew could impact the start or even postpone it until Sunday.
To borrow a line from the late Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It was a year ago that the Bank of America 500 was slated for a Saturday night start only Mother Nature intervened and pushed the traditional event to Sunday. Now it is once again being threatened because of Hurricane Matthew that is expected to roar up the east coast. Even if it curls out to sea, there will be rain and lots of it this weekend. How much, and when, will determine what happens.
One thing is for sure, qualifying will take place as scheduled Friday night and in the first and only practice before it, Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 Chevrolet took 20 trips around the mile and a half oval posting the fastest speed at 193.757. But there could be a surprise name to go after the pole and it is Alex Bowman, who is piloting the No. 88 Chevrolet, and wasn’t far behind at 192.996. Bowman is subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. who is out for the year with concussion-like symptoms.
Joey Logano in the No. 22 Ford is the defending Bank of America 500 champion and he was 11th fastest in practice, but all eyes will be in Martin Truex Jr. who is arguably the hottest driver on the circuit. He was third at 192.034 and the last time he saw this track he dominated the Coca-Cola 600 in the spring. Add to that his two wins in the three Chase events before the cutdown from 16 to 12.
“It’s been pretty incredible the last five weeks just to be part of such a historic run for our race team, so it’s been a lot of fun,” said Truex. “We’ve been working hard. It’s always fun when you’re winning races and running up front each and every week and we’re here at Charlotte to hopefully continue that, so excited about the weekend. Obviously, this is a big way to start the weekend for us announcing another partner on the 78. It’s really cool to have a Charlotte-based company (Maaco) that’s nationwide and in Canada be a part of our race team and hopefully we’ll give these guys something to be excited about this weekend.”
As hot as Truex has been, one driver seems to own Charlotte. Jimmie Johnson holds the record with seven wins along with 14 top-5s and 18 top-10s in 30 career starts. He ranks first in average running position (8.3), driver rating (109.6) and laps led (1,740) and if that isn’t enough, he has won the fall race three times, all of them in the Chase format. No other driver has one since the Chase for the Sprint Cup was put into place.
Location – Concord, NC
Statistics – 1.5 mile paved oval
Track Record: Kurt Busch (198.771 mph)
Segment 1 – Chicagoland (COMPLETED), New Hampshire (COMPLETED), Dover (COMPLETED
Segment 2 – Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega
Segment 3 – Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix
Segment 4 – Homestand-Miami Speedway
It is impossible to look past Martin Truex simply because of how hot he has been, but there is a possibility that the race, whenever it is run, will be totally green. Early strategy will play a pivotal role especially if it is run on Saturday going from daylight to night and Harvick should stake his claim into the Round of 8 in three weeks. If moved to Sunday, don’t be surprised if Truex runs away with it again.
This is a perfect track for a non-Chase car to land in the winner’s circle and he has made great strides as a rookie this year. Breaking through with his first Cup win is Ryan Blaney.