It was back in mid-May when Jimmie Johnson had yet to win a race this season and there were whispers about what was wrong with the No. 48 team. Maybe the relationship between Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus wasn’t what it used to be? Maybe the No. 48 team had lost its edge after winning its sixth title last year? Maybe others had caught up to them?
But Johnson went on to win the next race at Charlotte and then followed by winning the next week at Dover.
Well, with Johnson having tire issues at Kansas last week pushing him to 12th in the Chase standings, and not winning at Dover the week before, some of those questions that arose in May could be back in play now. However, as is often the case with a championship team like Johnson’s, it is so good at so many tracks that a win is always possible the next week.
And so, just when it seems like the fashionable thing to count Johnson out, he may be ready to rise again as the Sprint Cup series rolls into Charlotte for a Saturday night race. Don’t expect the defending champion to go down without a fight in these next two races. So, if you are on pick limits in a Yahoo! league and have saved Johnson for these late races, don’t despair. Charlotte just happens to be a pretty good venue for Johnson’s fight this week.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
Johnson’s record at Charlotte is pretty much off the charts here. First, he won the May race at Charlotte in convincing fashion leading 164 laps in that race. Johnson also has two other top five finishes in the last five races at Charlotte. He has also led 347 laps in those five races, second most among active drivers. However, for his career, Johnson has seven wins and has led 1,733 laps, easily the most among active drivers at the track. Johnson’s overall average finish at the track is 11.15, which is second best among active drivers. So, yes, even with last week’s mess of a 40th-place finish, Johnson is still very much in this thing.
A driver who seems to be very much in the mix to win each week, but hasn’t been able to do it lately, is Kevin Harvick. He finished second in the spring Charlotte race and led 100 laps in that race. Harvick does have one win at Charlotte in the last five races and has the second-best average finish among active drivers in those races at 6.6. So, you always think this might be his week because of how fast his car is when it unloads off the truck and there’s plenty of reason to think that away again this week.
So, when talking about Johnson’s and Harvick’s success, I mention they are second among active drivers in a couple of key categories. Well, the leader in those categories is Kasey Kahne, so he has to be looked at this week as well. Kahne didn’t fare that well in the May race at Charlotte finishing 14th, but in the last five races he does have the best average finish among active drivers at 5.4. That 14th place finish was his worst at Charlotte in his last five races there. Kahne has one win in those races, and four there for his career, and has led an active-driver high 395 laps in those races.
There are a few others you could also go with here, too. Matt Kenseth was third in the May race and has yet to win this year, so maybe you think he just has to win sometime, somewhere this season. Kenseth does have two career wins at Charlotte. Also, there is Jeff Gordon, who was seventh in the May race and has five career wins there. And finally, Clint Bowyer does have one win at Charlotte in the last five races, but has led just 30 laps in those races, so buyer (or should that be Bowyer?) beware there.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS
The two regular picks in this category are Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. It’s not just because they have combined to win three of the four races in the Chase and nine races overall this seaason far, but because they also have a good recent history at Charlotte.
Logano has the best career average finish among active drivers at Charlotte at 10.55 in 11 races. However, it’s true that he has not won there, with his best finish being third. Logano finished 12th in the May race this year, but somehow, with the way things are going for the team, it won’t be a surprise to see him challenge for the lead Saturday night.
Keselowski does have one win in the last five races at Charlotte and has two other top 10 finishes in those races. For his career, Keselowski has led 206 laps in 10 races at Charlotte. He was 10th in the May race this year and with him also suffering from a tire issue and finishing 36th at Kansas last week, you know this team, which has five wins this season, will have a sense urgency to finish up front this week.
A driver who made a step forward last week and is coming to a track that he has traditionally been solid at is Carl Edwards. The lame duck driver for Roush Fenway who is heading to Joe Gibbs Racing next year, finished fourth in the May race at Charlotte. Edwards does have one career win at Charlotte, too. And in his last five races there, he has four top 10 finishes, with his other finish being an 11th. So, even if you don’t think Edwards has a legitimate shot to win this week, the numbers tell us a top 10 finish is a very real possibility.
A driver who has run better here later in the season, but also has yet to win, is Jamie McMurray. The first Charlotte race is one of the places where McMurray ran well earlier this year when he finished fifth. Overall, McMurray has two career wins at Charlotte, so if you are looking for a non-Chaser here, he is worth a look.
Kyle Larson is the pick here as usual if you have any picks left for him if you are on pick limits or if there is room in your budget for him. The fact that Larson finished 18th in the May race and finished two laps down is pretty much meaningless right now. He’s been so close to victory lately you know he and his team will be pushing even harder to put him into Victory Lane in these last six races.
However, if you have used up your Larson picks, there is a different viable option this week. Trevor Bayne will be driving the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing. Bayne’s best finish at Charlotte in five career races is 16th, so a top 20 is possible here.
The other legitimate option is rookie Austin Dillon. He showed some progress with an eighth-place finish at Kansas last week. And he finished 16th at the first race in Charlotte this year, so it’s not a reach to think that he could finish in the top 15.
The other possibility here is Danica Patrick, who did finish 16th at Kansas last week. Her best finish at Charlotte is a 20th, so with her recent improvement, a top 20 again is not out of the question for her either.
The leaders for the season in the Frontstretch Fantasy League on Yahoo! remained the same with NoBarNASCAR leading with 7.958 points, followed by Mojothemonkey at 7,898 and LeftTurnOnly at 7,853.
The top weekly score went to Yellow Stripe with 377 points from the combination of race winner Joey Logano, Kyle Larson in second, Ryan Newman in sixth and Kevin Harvick in 12th.