Jeff Gordon is moving up; he has the Pole for Saturday night's race and moved up one spot in the Chase for the Championship after last week's 9th place finish at Fontana. He finished sixth at Charlotte in the Summer race and claims 20 top ten finishes in his 35 Cup Series starts at CMS. Jeff has finished in the top ten in three of the four Chase races so far; can he make it through another week with a top ten finish? There doesn't seem to be any good reason why not.
Saturday will be Mark Martin's 52nd start in a Cup race at Charlotte. In his previous 51 starts he has had 23 top ten finishes and four wins. Mark's average finish of 15.7 is in the upper third of all active Cup drivers. Martin has been around this track enough to have learned how the track responds to all different temperatures and weather conditions. If anyone has the experience to take a top ten finish away from the Back of America 500 it will be Mark.
Clint Bowyer's last two finishes at Charlotte have been in the the top ten. Clint's goal is to make it to the top five in Chase standings by the end of the season; another finish in the top three will likely get him to 11th spot in front of Matt Kenseth. Still 247 pints back from the points leader, Clint has a lot of work to do. His temporary crew chief Scott Miller has the experience, and he and Bowyer have a good working relationship. With just one top five finish in Clint's past Cup outings at CMS, Clint will need to have another solid performance to bring the #33 Chevrolet to the front of the pack.
Two-thirds of finishes by Kevin Harvick's team this season have been in the top ten. He has a 9.5 average finish on the season, but just a 20.7 average finish here in Charlotte. It has been 14 races since Harvick has finished in the top ten in a Cup Series race at CMS; this is the week for his comeback at this track. Kevin knows the importance of this weekend. Saturday night's race could help him gain points on the Chase leader or drop Harvick back significantly if he is unable to make it into the top ten by the end of the race. Just 54 points back from points leader Johnson, Kevin should come out an prove he is a contender Saturday night.
Denny Hamlin has a good shot at performing well in this week's race. Coming out of three of four Chase races ending in top ten finishes, Denny has momentum and confidence to count on. This track is not one of his best, however. The last time Hamlin finished in the top ten at CMS was the Summer 2007 race. Team Hamlin will be working on race set-up and going for more consistent runs than he has shown in recent racing in Charlotte. At the end of the day, Denny should find his way to the top ten.
Since the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship began, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been quietly improving his game. This Hendrick Motorsports Team has struggled all season but looks like they have started to pull things together. With a 4th place finish at New Hampshire and last week's 16th place day in Fontana, Dale has started to feel some confidence in his team and in himself. This improved attitude has carried over into Earnhardt's qualifying efforts; he starts from within the top ten Saturday night at CMS. At the end of the 334 laps I expect to see Dale still running in the top ten with a solid night all the way around from the pits to the track.
NASCAR Raceday comes on the air on the SPEED Channel at 5 p.m. Saturday. NASCAR Countdown begins at 7 p.m. On ABC. Bank of America 500 coverage continues on ABC at 7:30 p.m. Race coverage will also be aired on MRN Radio Stations. Don't miss the fifth race in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship as points driver try to battle for points while non-Chase drivers battle for bragging rights. Saturday night under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway should be a wild ride.