Concord, NC – Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Saturday, mile oval. Start time: 7:30 p.m. (et). Laps: 334. Miles: 501. 2010 Winner: Jamie McMurray. Television: ABC. Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN) /SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.
Here comes Jimmie Johnson. The five-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion is once again on the move in the Chase.
After sitting tenth in the point standings two weeks ago, Johnson has climbed up seven positions following his second-place finish last week at Dover and then his win this past Sunday at Kansas.
Johnson's attempt to win a record-extending sixth straight title appeared to be in jeopardy when he finished 18th at New Hampshire and fell 29 points out of the lead. That's no longer the case, as he has moved to within four points of leader Carl Edwards.
Last year, Johnson finished 25th in the Chase-opener at New Hampshire, but went on a tear from there, winning at Dover and then finishing second at Kansas before placing third at his home track in Fontana, CA.
Johnson claimed his second win of the season with a dominating performance at Kansas, leading 197 of 272 laps on that 1.5-mile track. He ended a 21-race winless drought. Johnson also collected his 55th career victory, which placed him in a tie with Rusty Wallace for eighth on the series' all-time race winners list.
The Chase continues on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Charlotte is the third of five 1.5-mile tracks on this year's playoff schedule. And Johnson runs very well on those tracks.
"I'm very excited going forward into the remaining mile-and-a-half tracks, starting with Charlotte," Johnson said. "This thing isn't going to be over until Homestead. We came a long way from the opening race [Chicagoland], or New Hampshire for that matter, but there's still a lot of racing left."
Charlotte has been one of Johnson's best tracks. He is tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for most wins at this track with six. Johnson finished 28th in the 600-mile race here in May.
The next win by a Hendrick Motorsports driver (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Johnson ) will mark the 200th win for the racing organization in NASCAR's premier series. HMS would become just the second team in series' history with 200 or more wins. Petty Enterprises accumulated 268 during a six-decade span.
"When I look through all the pictures, since the beginning of Hendrick Motorsports, and I look at the wins, and I remember the celebrations, I can remember vividly that I didn't know if I'd ever win one race," team owner Rick Hendrick recalled. "I know there were some years where I thought, 'Are we going to win a race this year?' When you say you've won a race in the Cup Series, you've accomplished something, but when you think about 200 wins, it's unbelievable."
Hendrick leads all team owners with 16 wins at Charlotte. Petty has the second most victories here with eight.
Right now, 20 points separate leader Edwards from eight-place Kyle Busch. Edwards had a remarkable comeback at Kansas. After dealing with an ill- handling car and a host of other issues, he rallied late in the race to finish fifth. The Roush Fenway Racing driver claimed sole possession of the points lead, holding a single-point advantage over Kevin Harvick, who finished sixth.
"I feel like we've had two weeks with very lucky breaks, this week [Kansas] and last week [Dover], to be able to come back from a bad position on the racetrack," Edwards said. "There's a lot that can happen in the next six races. I have a feeling there will be more moments that define this championship, all the way up until the last lap at Homestead."
Earning the nickname "The Closer" this year, Harvick prevailed in a thrilling fuel battle at Charlotte earlier in the season. Earnhardt Jr. was less than a half-mile away from ending his lengthy winless streak, but Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas on the last turn of the final lap, allowing Harvick to drive past him and steal the win.
Kyle Busch finished second to Jamie McMurray in last year's fall race at Charlotte. Busch has yet to score a victory in a Sprint Cup event here. He has six wins in the Nationwide Series and four in the Camping World Truck Series so far at this track.
"Winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway, since it is my favorite track, would be really special, since I've been able to win there in other series and have been close a lot in the Cup car," Busch said. "It seems like the month of May at Charlotte just hasn't liked me too much. We got to win in the Truck Series race in the spring, so I'm hoping we can change that this weekend and get a fall Sprint Cup win."
Forty-seven teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Bank of America 500. Qualifying at Charlotte is scheduled for Thursday night.