NASCAR: Charlotte

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The list of contenders for this year’s NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship got a little shorter following last week’s race at California. Heading into Fontana, there were eight drivers within 85 points of the leader. Coming into Charlotte this week, there are only four drivers within 85 points as a series of wrecks, blown engines and bad luck derailed a few of the chasers.

With Tony Stewart winning, he moved up eight places to fifth in points, 107 points from Jimmie Johnson who extended his lead over second place Denny Hamlin to 36 points. Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon are third and fourth respectively.

The Las Vegas Hilton has adjusted their odds to win the title with Johnson being the strong 5 to 8 favorite followed by Hamlin and Harvick at 9-2, then Gordon and Stewart at 15-1.

Six races remain in the Chase and even though some drivers have counted themselves out for that title, winning weekly races is still the name of the game. This week we’ll have more candidates than ever capable of winning including non-Chasers like Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin and David Reutimann who will all have just as good a chance of winning the race as some of the favorites who are involved in the Chase.

Kurt Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May for his second win of the season on 1½-mile high banked tracks with McMurray, Kyle Busch, Martin and Reutimann right behind him. We’ve seen a great mix of drivers do well on these types of tracks this season. Unlike the first four races on these type of tracks, the Roush drivers figure to be major players this week as well.

Even before the Roush program found their horsepower midway through the season, Matt Kenseth was still having quality finishes. In the seven races run on mile-and-a-half tracks, no one in the series has a better combined average finish position than Kenseth. On Charlotte’s sister track of Atlanta, Carl Edwards was runner-up to Stewart. And then of course we have Greg Biffle who won on the flatter Kansas track two weeks ago.

Johnson used to be the King of Charlotte as he accumulated five wins in six races from 2003-2005, but he’s only won one race since — this race last year. He’s won once this year on these types of tracks, but in the last three chances on down-force tracks he’s finished third twice and runner-up.

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