NASCAR is heading “home sweet home” this weekend, as the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup visits the 1.5-mile high banks of Charlotte Motor Speedway – site of the fifth race in the 2013 Chase, the Bank of America 500.
Kevin Harvick was victorious last Sunday at Kansas Speedway, pulling himself up to third in the championship (25 points behind leader Matt Kenseth). And after claiming the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte back in May, another move toward the top may be in the cards for him.
Strategy played a key role in Harvick’s triumph in May. Kasey Kahne was leading when the caution came out with 14 laps left, but opted to stay out while Harvick and the leaders pitted. When the race went back to green a few laps later, Harvick – who took two tires on his final stop – quickly got by Kahne and went on to the win.
We may also want to keep an eye out on another Chase contender Kurt Busch, who was in position to win in May until a late battery failure knocked him from the lead and forced him to battle for a third-place result.
Your two current Chase leaders, Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson (second, 3 points behind Kenseth) also ran into problems in the same race. On Lap 333, Johnson spun out, collecting both Kenseth and Juan Pablo Montoya in the process. Kenseth would continue on for a 15th place finish, while Johnson ended up 22nd.
As provided by NASCAR, here’s a look at how all 13 Chase contenders have done at Charlotte in their careers going into Saturday night’s pivotal race:
MATT KENSETH (Leader, 2,183 points)
Two wins, seven Top-5s, 14 Top-10s
Average Finish: 14.2 in 28 races
Average Running Position: 14.3, sixth-best
JIMMIE JOHNSON (Second, -3 points)
Six wins, 11 Top-5s, 15 Top-10s
Average Finish: 11.9 in 24 races
Series-best Average Running Position: 8.1
KEVIN HARVICK (Third, -25 points)
Two wins, three Top-5s, eight Top-10s
Average Finish: 17.3 in 25 races
Average Running Position: 18.3, 19th-best
JEFF GORDON (Fourth, -32 points)
Five wins, 16 Top-5s, 21 Top-10s
Average Finish: 16.2 in 41 races
Average Running Position: 15.7, 10th-best
KYLE BUSCH (Fifth, -35 points)
Eight Top-5s, 11 Top-10s
Average Finish: 16.5 in 19 races
Average Running Position: 9.9, second-best
GREG BIFFLE (Sixth, -44 points)
Five Top-5s, eight Top-10s
Average Finish: 17.1 in 21 races
Average Running Position: 14.6, eighth-best
KURT BUSCH (Seventh, -47 points)
One win, six Top-5s, seven Top-10s
Average Finish: 19.1 in 26 races
Average Running Position: 17.3, 17th-best
DALE EARNHARDT JR. (Eighth, -54 points)
Five Top-5s, 11 Top-10s
Average Finish: 19.6 in 27 races
Average Running Position: 20.3, 24th-best
CLINT BOWYER (Ninth, -55 points)
One win, two Top-5s, five Top-10s
Average Finish: 15.8 in 15 races
Average Running Position: 17.1, 15th-best
JOEY LOGANO (10th, -59 points)
Three Top-5s, six Top-10s
Average Finish: 9.6 in nine races
Average Running Position: 14.3, seventh-best
CARL EDWARDS (11th, -60 points)
Five Top-5s, 10 Top-10s
Average Finish: 11.9 in 17 races
Average Running Position: 15.0, ninth-best
RYAN NEWMAN (12th, -73 points)
Four Top-5s, nine Top-10s
Average Finish: 19.6 in 25 races
Average Running Position: 18.1, 18th-best
KASEY KAHNE (13th, -83 points)
Four wins, eight Top-5s, 11 Top-10s
Average Finish: 11.9 in 19 races
Average Running Position: 11.8, third-best
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.