After the first race of the contender round, from which only eight advance, of NASCAR’s new Chase Grid format, several big name drivers are on the outside looking in.
Most notable of the drivers outside the top eight is six time champion, Jimmie Johnson. Johnson is always in contention for a championship, it is hard to remember a time when he wasn’t a threat. This year, however, the team has seemed a little more human.
Though, Johnson does have three wins on the season, he has not been considered a threat to win every week, something that has become a given due to the impressive performance from the Chad Knaus led team over the past decade.
Due to a multitude of problems at Kansas last week, Johnson currently sits 12th in points, 27 points out of the transfer spot. Fortunately, for Johnson, inconsistent weekly performance by drivers in the top eight such as, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards, may be the light at the end of the tunnel. 27 points, however, is a lot of ground to make up.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that Talladega is the final race of this three race segment. Given the “wildcard” nature of that race, Johnson will want to solidify his chances this weekend at Charlotte.
After stumbling at Kansas, Dale Earnhardt Jr is extremely confident heading into Charlotte. Earnhardt, who currently sits 11th in points, 25 out of the transfer spot, in an interview from the track on Friday said, “We’re going to win this race. I’ve got a really good feeling about it.”
Earnhardt has his work cut out for him. He never won in a point paying race at Charlotte and no longer has the dominance of plate tracks he enjoyed in the past, so Talladega is longer an “automatic” for him. He will start ninth on Saturday night in the Bank of America 500.
Brad Keselowski, currently tenth in points, is definitely a driver that was not expected to be on the outside looking in. Keselowski, along with his teammate, Joey Logano, have been very impressive all season. Team Penske is a threat to win each week. Keselowski, who has five wins on the season, has the best odds at winning to advance. It would not be a surprise to see the No. 2 Ford in victory lane on Saturday night.
Kasey Kahne, on the other hand, has not been impressive on a consistent basis. Kahne currently sits ninth in points, only eight points out of a transfer spot. Kahne, however, scraped by to get in the Chase, and barely made the cut to advance to the Contender round. Kahne has not shown the performance his Hendrick Motorsports teammates have shown. Kahne will likely not be able to dig out of the hole this time.
Fortunately, for Kahne, he does run well at Charlotte. His best hope is to not rely on points. He needs to win.
It will definitely be interesting night at Charlotte. If it is anything like the Nationwide race on Friday night which was filled with crashes, there could be a major shake-up in the standings setting up another game seven moment that NASCAR was searching for when it implemented this new format.