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Qualifying the Chasers: Charlotte Motor Speedway

October 13, 2012, Nick Margiasso, NASCAR.com

Keselowski keeps up poor qualifying runs, Biffle on pole, Chasers stuff top-10

Brad Keselowski (Qualified 20th): Not, to state the obvious, but this guy's got 2012 Sprint Cup champion written all over him. Here's one more sign -- when you don't have a great race at one of your best tracks, get caught up in the most memorable wreck of the season and still post a top-10. He has now finished in the top 10 in 13 of the last 14 races, and leads the Chase by 14 points. The leader of the Chase after four races has won five of the eight NASCAR postseasons. However, Keselowski has only one finished in the top 10 at Charlotte -- his fifth earlier this year. Can he improve on his average finish of 16.5 at CMS? If so, he can start picking out a bow to put on top of this thing.

Who will win?


The Chase for the Sprint Cup? This week's race? Check out the up-to-date predictions.

Jimmie Johnson (Qualified 5th): Well, Jimmie finally got off track in the Chase. The Big One at Talladega crushed a lot of people's hopes, but put some unwanted distance between Five-Time and breathing down the neck of Keselowski the Kid. That's a pretty good time to move to a track where you are a bona fide legend at. He's tied with six wins, most of any Cup driver, with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. One more victory, and he could be back on top in 2012.

Denny Hamlin (Qualified 9th): Still very much in the mix after his predicted win a few weeks ago, Hamlin is 23 points behind the leader and nine back of JJ. He has a real shot to spin this Charlotte start into something special as, although he's never won, he's been knocking on the door lately. Hamlin posted a runner-up earlier this year, and has not finished outside the top-10 here since 2010. This could be Denny's chance for a grand slam.

Kasey Kahne (Qualified 10th): The man with the grueling Charlotte win already in 2012 is getting back at just the right time to suffocate his mini-swoon. You'd like to throw 'Dega out of the books, but the fact is that Kahne's finish there makes it two straight finishes outside the top 10 as he is supposed to be closing on the leading triumvirate. His spacing between the top three is an issue, especially if he isn't planning on a Smoke-like tear circa last season. CMS is as good a place to start as any for the Coke 600 2012 champ.

Clint Bowyer (Qualified 4th): There's ol' Clint, still lurking. Unfortunately, he could be doing a lot more than that had the Talladega crash not arguably victimized his realistic chances more than anyone's. A 23rd-place finish will not help the Michael Waltrip Racing horse, especially after finishing in the top 10 of every Chase race leading up. He won't like what CMS has in store, either, as Clint hasn't finished in the top 10 at the track since 2010.

Jeff Gordon (Qualified 13th): Well, well, well -- look who it is. It's almost like with every new great-looking showing in the Chase, that opening crash hurts more and more. If not for Chicagoland, Gordon could be a win away from leading this Chase. But that's an alternate reality, and Gordon will need a legendary run the rest of the way to get another championship. The Rainbow Warrior knows his way around CMS, with a stout five wins, but hasn't performed great recently. He has a seventh this season, but three straight finishes outside the top 20 prior to that. Still, the most likely man to win is the one who's done it before. Boy, would that change things.

Bank of America 500

Lineup: Top Five plus Chasers
Pos.DriverMake
2.Mark MartinToyota
3.Ryan NewmanChevrolet
4.Clint BowyerToyota
5.Jimmie JohnsonChevrolet
6.Martin Truex Jr.Toyota
7.Matt KensethFord
9.Denny HamlinToyota
10.Kasey KahneChevrolet
11.Kevin HarvickChevrolet
13.Jeff GordonChevrolet
20.Brad KeselowskiDodge
32.Tony StewartChevrolet

Tony Stewart (Qualified 32nd): Stewart has been making lots of headlines -- just not on the track. It's been all 2013 sponsorship talk for Smoke while his 2012 flounders, taking a look at his most recent performance on it -- a 32nd-best qualifying run. He's finished 20th or higher in back-to-back races, and was 25th at CMS already this season. He's finished inside the top 10 once at the track in the last five years, and that was his miraculous 2011 Chase run. That spells more trouble for this season, as there is no mysterious positive powers following him in 2012.

Martin Truex Jr. (Qualified 6th): He was getting smoked at yet another restrictor-plate track when the Big One actually helped Truex get a decent 13th and keeping the Chase hope alive. He has alternated good and bad finishes for the past seven races, which is never a good way to grab at a championship. Charlotte might just put out any remaining flame he holds toward a title prospect, as he has just one top-10 finish since his rookie season seven years ago and 19.4 average finish. That's not going to do it.

Greg Biffle (Qualified 1st): Biff needed that pole, because he was about to look worse than a guy who stole a win in a Ford and still couldn't pull out of last place in the Chase. A solid sixth at Talladega broke a streak of middling finishes in the teens during the course of the Chase so far for the former points leader in 2012. He has a fourth-place at CMS this year, but hasn't show enough promise to think his chances are about to turn on a dime. At least he's up front when the green goes.

Kevin Harvick (Qualified 11th): He's really disappeared during this Chase, without a top-10 and nothing to say one is in sight. At least Harvick's gone invisible at the right time of the year. Can you trick-or-treat in the garage area?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Qualified N/A): Well, it seemed like Junior was a little off his game during the Chase, and now we know why. Here is wishing a safe and speedy recorvery for NASCAR's Most Popular Driver.

Matt Kenseth (Qualified 7th): Kenseth spent 28 races getting unlucky and, boom -- literally. Kenseth was in the right place at the right time as Talladega exploded behind him, allowing him to pop open the champagne in Victory Lane. How bad has Kenseth's Chase been so far? His win didn't even move him out of last place. Ouch.

Story includes statistics from © Racing Resources and Services, Statistics by © Racing Recall®

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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