Charlotte no cakewalk for Chase leaders

October, 13, 2011

Before I get to my usual rambling and weekly preview, a quick thought: A Saturday night race this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway means no competition with the NFL and limited competition with college football.

If NASCAR were to start holding races on, say, Thursday or Friday nights during the Chase, would you be more likely to watch than on Sunday afternoons, when there's the NFL to be had?

Let's start a conversation in the comments section and let me know your thoughts!

Now, as for Charlotte ...

Earlier this season, we saw Carl Edwards dominate the Sprint All-Star Race and Kevin Harvick come out of nowhere to win the Coke 600 when a certain fan favorite (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) ran out of fuel in the final turn.

But despite their recent success at Charlotte, both drivers have struggled at the track since 2005.

Edwards ranks between 11th and 14th in the biggest of the loop-data categories: average running position, fastest laps run, green-flag speed and overall driver rating.

Harvick is in even rougher shape, ranking outside the top 20 in all of those categories.

So, who could take advantage? The easy answer is Jimmie Johnson, who leads the series in all those categories. But from 2005-09, Johnson's average driver rating was a 118.9. In the three races since, it's a pedestrian 92.7. Still good, but certainly not dominating, and not the best in the series.

So, let's say the numbers hold true, and those three struggle Saturday night. Who could take advantage?

How about the man who led the field in driver rating, laps led, fastest laps run and quality passes (green-flag passes inside the top 15) in the spring race at Charlotte?

If you like those numbers, you'd like Matt Kenseth. Kenseth finished 14th in that race but appeared to be the class of the field.

My prediction: the usual unpredictability.

The Eliminator: Charlotte

Most people just pick winners -- some by hunches, some by stats and some by just picking names off the top of their heads. I don't pick winners; I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

1. Sixteen of the past 17 Charlotte winners had a previous top-10 finish at the track (11 eliminated, 37 remaining).

2. The past eight fall Charlotte winners had a win earlier in the season (23 eliminated, 14 remaining).

3. Eight of the past nine Charlotte winners finished 11th or better in the previous Kansas race (eight eliminated, six remaining).

4. The past four and six of the past seven Charlotte winners finished in the top 13 of the most recent Charlotte race (four eliminated, two remaining).

5. The past four Charlotte winners and the past four fall Charlotte winners had top-20 finishes in their past three races overall (one eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Kevin Harvick.

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.



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