Story/Photo: NASCAR Media/Getty Images –
Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET ABC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM Satellite Radio) may confirm that the floodgates for this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ truly have been opened.
Kevin Harvick’s Kansas victory – along with varying degrees of difficulty suffered by the points leaders – has decimated any notion that this year’s Chase is a two or three driver race.
Try five. Or more.
Harvick, a “stealth” championship contender in the minds of some, closed to 25 points behind leader Matt Kenseth. The top seven in a Chase field of 13 are within one race worth of points (47) as NASCAR’s postseason hits the midway point in Charlotte.
Can’t be done? Don’t tell that to current runner up Jimmie Johnson, who trailed by 156 points – roughly 37 markers under the current system – after the first four races the 2006 Chase. Johnson rebounded from a ranking of eighth to forge the first of his five consecutive titles.
The top seven contenders include four NASCAR Sprint Cup champions – Kenseth, Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch who collectively have won 14 races at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Gordon, whose pursuit of NASCAR Sprint Cup championship No. 5 has been on hold since 2001, finished third at Kansas for his third top-10 performance in this year’s Chase. A five-time Charlotte winner, Gordon is fourth in current standings, 32 points behind Kenseth.
Harvick is Charlotte’s most recent winner capturing May’s Coca-Cola 600, his second victory in the past three editions of NASCAR’s longest race. Should he win Saturday night’s race and ultimately claim the 2013 title, Harvick would become just the third competitor to score a Charlotte sweep in his championship season. Only NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt (1986) and Richard Petty (1975) have achieved the feat.
Johnson, in 2009, is the only driver to win Charlotte’s fall race and the title during the Chase era.
Since the Chase began in 2004, the season champion has finished Charlotte’s fall race four times among the top five and six races in the top 10 with an average finish of 8.2. Each led his respective race.