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Qualifying the Chasers: Charlotte Motor Speedway

October 13, 2011, Bill Kimm, NASCAR.com

Stewart, Kenseth and Edwards claim top three spots for Bank of America 500

Tony Stewart (Qualified first) -- After starting the Chase with two wins, Stewart has gone backward since. At Charlotte, Stewart has the third-best average finish amongst Chasers at 13.8 but don't let that fool you, recently this hasn't been Stewart's favorite place. Stewart hasn't finished in the top 10 since the Chase race in 2007, giving him an average finish of 16.2 in his past seven starts. Since starting Stewart-Haas Racing, he's led just six laps at CMS and has finished no better than 13th. Stewart's lone win came in the 2003 fall race, and that is also the last time he's finished in the top five.

Matt Kenseth (Qualified second) -- Kenseth is quietly the hottest Chase driver out there thanks to a sixth at New Hampshire, a fifth at Dover and a fourth at Kansas. Coming into a style of track he has been very successful at in his career, that streak looks to continue. His only win came in 2000, but in 24 starts he has six top-fives and 12 top-10s. Recently, he's been strong at Charlotte. In the past five races, Kenseth has a second in the '09 Chase race and three other top-10s. Kenseth has been out front in 10 of the past 11 CMS races, including a race-leading 103 laps in the spring race. Unfortunately for Kenseth, fuel-mileage bit him in that one and he finished 14th.

Carl Edwards (Qualified third) -- Edwards remains the only Chase driver with top-10s in all four Chase races thanks to a gutty performance at Kansas. He brings that momentum -- and the points lead -- to Charlotte, where he has the second-best average finish among Chasers. His 13.3 average finish trails just Johnson thanks to four top-fives and seven top-10s in 13 starts. Sure, he's winless at CMS but he has just two finishes worse than 16th. The scary thing for Edwards is the Chase races have been his worst. He finished 33rd in 2008 and an engine failure put him 39th in 2009.

Ryan Newman (Qualified sixth) -- Newman was in desperation mode at Kansas and it brought an 18th-place effort. Now 54 points behind Edwards, Newman is on life-support, and Charlotte isn't the track he wants that feeling. Newman is a beast in qualifying (6.7 average start) but can't turn that into strong finishes -- his 20.9 average finish is worst among Chase drivers. Newman has four top-fives, seven top-10s and 10 finishes of 20th or worse in 21 starts. There is a plus, though. Two of Newman's top-10s have come in the past two years with a second in 2009 and a ninth in 2010, both in the spring. In the Chase, Newman has been horrible. He has just one top-10, a seventh in 2005, and his most recent Chase race was a 36th. Add a 31st in this year's spring race and Newman doesn't come into Charlotte with a ton of confidence.

Jimmie Johnson (Qualified ninth) -- Johnson flat out dominated at Kansas. In fact, you could say it resembled a No. 48 run at Charlotte back in the early 2000s. But since the repave, "The House that Jimmie Built" has been anything but. Johnson had five wins before the repave, but since 2007 Johnson has just two top-fives in nine starts. The interesting thing about that, both top-fives have come in the two most recent Chase races. Since the repave, his worst finish in a Chase race is 14th, so while Johnson has struggled recently, it doesn't happen when it counts. Another interesting stat ... in the spring race this year Johnson had engine problems and finished 26th. That was the first time in 19 races that Johnson didn't lead a lap in a Charlotte race.

Kevin Harvick (Qualified 14th) -- Harvick is a point out of the points lead and hasn't finished worse than 12th in this Chase. He's going to need that consistency at Charlotte, a track that Harvick would admit isn't one of his favorites. Harvick has just one win, one second and two eighth-place runs to hang his hat on in 21 starts. Harvick has led a dismal five laps out of more than 7,200 run. But, that win came in the spring race, when he won the fuel-mileage game, and one of those eighth-place runs came in the Chase race last season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Qualified 15th) -- Earnhardt just hasn't had the Chase he was hoping for, and Charlotte doesn't appear to be the track to turn things around. Earnhardt finished seventh here in the spring, but before that he had five finishes of 22nd or worse, including a 36th, a 38th and a 40th. In seven Chase races, Earnhardt finished third in 2004, fourth in 2006, but that's all to get excited about. A 19th and then four finishes of 29th or worse leave him with an average finish of 24.4.

Denny Hamlin (Qualified 17th) -- With his Chase over, Hamlin can focus on winning, and he would love to get his first at Charlotte. Hamlin's 16.6 average finish is right in the middle among Chasers, but don't let that fool you, Hamlin is pretty good at the 1.5-mile track. Hamlin has five top-10s in 12 starts and has led laps in eight of those races. Currently, Hamlin is in the middle of a two-race stretch of top-10s, including a career-best fourth in the Chase race last season.

Kurt Busch (Qualified 20th) -- Busch is 16 points back and will need to go against history if he is too keep pace at Charlotte. The 1.5-mile track is among Busch's worst in his career with an average finish of 19.7. He has just one win, five top-fives and six top-10s in 22 starts with 10 finishes of 20th or worse. But he appears to be improving at CMS. In his past six starts, he has a win, a third, a fourth and a 10th. His victory in 2010, Busch led 252 of the 400 laps and cruised to victory. This spring, Busch started 26th and worked his way to a fourth-place run. Busch has improved at Charlotte and there is no reason to think that won't continue.

Jeff Gordon (Qualified 23rd) -- Gordon took a big points hit when his engine went up in smoke at Kansas, and now he comes to Charlotte, a track that has been helter skelter for him. Gordon is good at CMS, no question, but he had some bad stretches. Five wins, 16 top-fives, 20 top-10s and eight poles in 37 starts ... not too shabby. But he also has nine DNFs and most of his success came early in his career. Going back to 2004, Gordon has just one victory, four top-fives, six top-10s and eight finishes of 20th or worse. There was a stretch from 2005-2007 where Gordon didn't finish a race in five starts. But there is a silver lining. Gordon has held the lead in six of his past eight starts at Charlotte and he has a victory and a fourth in two of the past four Chase races.

Kyle Busch (Qualified 25th) -- Sitting eighth in points, 20 behind Edwards, Busch needs a big race at Charlotte to stay in contention. He's definitely capable, but his aggressive style of driving can be a hindrance at CMS. The good news, Busch has five top-fives and eight top-10s in 15 starts and was in a seven-race stretch of top-10s before the spring race. And that's where the problems come in. Busch has four DNFs due to crashes, most recently in the spring race. But Busch leads laps at Charlotte, leading between 14 and 217 in six of the past seven. And in Chase races, Busch has been phenomenal with an average finish of 4.6 in the past five.

Brad Keselowski (Qualified 26th) -- Only two drivers have three top-fives in the first four Chase races and Keselowski is one of them (Edwards is the other). A fifth and two seconds have Keselowski fourth in points and threatening for his first Cup championship. At Charlotte, the Chase rookie has had modest results. His best finish is 12th, in 2009 with Hendrick Motorsports. In his current Penske Dodge, he's finished 20th, 22nd and 19th. The 19th-place finish came in the spring race, where Keselowski started on the pole and led seven laps.