One bad race knocked three of NASCAR’s biggest names to the bottom of the championship standings, and a repeat Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina will put the trio on the verge of elimination.
That’s the harsh reality for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and six-time and defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. They combined to win more than a third of the races this season, and their title hopes could end before the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
It’s a mathematical longshot to think that Keselowski, winner of five races this season, and Earnhardt and Johnson, who have three wins apiece, can all recover enough to move into the third round. None is concerned about anything but Saturday night’s race.
But after a solid first practice Friday, Earnhardt was confident.
“We’re going to win this race. I really got a good feeling about it,” he said on his 40th birthday. “This is what we’ve got to do anyway to try to get further points and try to win the championship. The car’s been great all weekend. Attitude’s good. Everybody’s excited. The team’s working well together. The car’s responding well. The car ran some good laps in practice and felt real good.”
Goodyear has warned teams that increased speeds at Charlotte Motor Speedway will put a heavy emphasis on the right front tires in Saturday night’s race.
Stu Grant, general manager of worldwide racing for Goodyear, said the tire manufacturer provided durability guidelines on Thursday for teams to use in their preparation for the pivotal race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Kurt Busch set the track record in Thursday qualifying with a lap at 198.771 mph. It broke Denny Hamlin’s record of 195.624 set in 2013 and was the fastest lap ever recorded on a 1.5-mile track.
Brad Keselowski thought he was in for a long night when a tire went down and he scraped the wall on lap 55 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Friday night.
“It was a night of adversity to start and we all got really nervous,” Keselowski said.
But once Keselowski settled down, the No. 22 Ford battled back to the front, passing teammate Ryan Blaney with 12 laps to go to win the Nationwide Series race.
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