NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Race Trax: 2006 Bank of America 500 at Charlotte

On Track

The Bank of America 500 is the 31st race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule. The Cup Series visits the 1.5-mile Lowe’s Motor Speedway twice a year – Kasey Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600 at the track in May. LMS has hosted the Nextel Cup Series each year since opening in 1960. The record for all-time wins (six) is held by Darrell Waltrip, while Jimmie Johnson leads active drivers with five wins. The track is a very fast and high-banked tri-oval track with 24 degrees of banking in the turns. The backstretch has five degrees of banking, while the frontstretch has 18 degrees through the tri-oval. Drivers will race 500 miles for the checkered flag. The field will include 2005 fall polesitter Elliott Sadler, as well as race winner Johnson.

52 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the Top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. 2006 owner points determine who is in this group for qualifying purposes for the remainder of the season. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The Nextel Cup Series qualifying record at LMS is 193.216 mph, set by Sadler in 2005.

To the Point

The points have shuffled in every Chase race so far, and last week at Talladega was no exception. Jeff Burton‘s points lead all but disappeared with a late-race tire failure on his Cingular Chevrolet, leaving Burton with just a six-point advantage over Matt Kenseth in the standings. Talladega brought a rash of bad luck for the Chase contenders: Mark Martin is third, just 10 points behind Burton, while Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin complete the top five.

Jeff Gordon dropped out of second in the standings following an early crash that sent the four-time champion sliding back to seventh in the standings; he’s now 147 out of the top spot. Rookie Hamlin also had his share of Talladega luck, slipping three spots to fifth, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson, who were both wrecked on the last lap while running one-two, remained in sixth and eighth spots, losing about 60 points apiece when race winner Brian Vickers sent them spinning. Kyle Busch and Kahne round out the top 10 in points.

See also
Frontstretch Breakdown: 2006 UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega

What to Expect

Expect drama. With the Chase almost halfway done, this is the last best chance for several drivers to make up ground. They won’t be points racing nearly as much as in past weeks on this multiple-groove 1.5-mile superspeedway. Also, three of the first four Chase races have been won by drivers who are not in the Chase, so look for the non-Chasers with something to prove to be racing hard as well.

Charlotte’s new surface has proven to be very fast, but it’s still not as easy on tires as some teams would like, and, as a result, the tire compound used here is harder than at similar tracks. The racing is still competitive, but the tires can make the racecars harder to handle. Cautions at LMS are not the multi-car fiascos that Talladega often produces, but there will be enough yellows to keep it interesting. Fuel mileage has been a huge issue the last few weeks, and Lowe’s has certainly forced teams to play the mileage game before, so don’t be surprised if the race winner is the team who can stretch the last drops of gas the farthest.

Who to Watch

Over the last two or three years at LMS, there has been a pair of drivers who always seem to be at the front of the pack, and both have the added incentive of badly needing Chase redemption. Johnson unabashedly calls LMS “my house,” and he’s not wrong. Johnson has won five of the last seven races in Charlotte, including this race one year ago. He’s also won in every way possible – dominating an entire race, producing a last-lap charge, snagging some late-race luck and simply by pure driving. Johnson’s biggest challenger at Lowe’s for the last couple of seasons has been Kahne. Kahne won the Coca-Cola 600 in May over Johnson, and should have won this race two years ago – a blown tire late after dominating for most of the night handed that race to Johnson. Kahne ran in this race last year, and shows no signs of changing his pace.

Other Chasers who have found Charlotte success include Gordon, Kenseth and Earnhardt Jr. All three are looking to swing their momentum to the upside, and all three could take the checkered flag on Saturday without a problem. Outside the Chase but looking for his first Cup victory is Casey Mears. Mears nearly won the Busch race at LMS this spring until a fuel-mileage gamble took the win away at the end, and followed that up by running near the front all day in the 600, only to spin in a patch of oil late in the race. If Mears picks up where he left off in May, he may well visit victory lane in October.

Did You Know…

  • David Pearson holds the record with 14 poles at LMS?
  • Martin leads the pack of active drivers with 21 top-10 finishes at Lowe’s?
  • Cale Yarborough was 46 years, six months and nine days old when he won this race in 1985? That makes him the oldest driver to claim victory at LMS. Gordon claimed his first career win at LMS and is the track’s youngest winner.

You Don’t Say

“These cars are always hard to drive. If they were easy to drive, you and everybody could do it.” – Tony Stewart on whether the harder tires at LMS make the cars harder to drive

“We’ll race hard for wins these next six races; that’s the way we can impact the point standings.” – Kasey Kahne on his Chase strategy for the final six races

“My mom and grandmother are coming to watch me race, so I would like to get a solid finish.” – David Stremme on his added incentive to race well on Saturday night

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