Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Bank of America 500 came down to another one of those fuel mileage races that in this case may go a long way in determining which driver will end up becoming this season’s champion. More times than not fuel mileage becomes an issue when you have long green runs with very few caution flags, and that once again turned out to be the case as the race only had five cautions for a total of 23 laps.
Brad Keselowski entered the night on top of the standings with a 14-point lead over Jimmie Johnson, and for much of the race it looked like he would actually add to that lead as he led the most laps. Of course, leading laps doesn’t guarantee a victory, especially when you just pass the entrance to pit road and you suddenly run out of gas with 59 laps remaining. That is exactly what happened to Keselowski as it forced him to coast around to his pit stall and when he did come back on the track he found himself a lap down.
Keselowski wasn’t the only driver having to keep an eye on his fuel pressure gauge; all of those Chase drivers that were still in the hunt for the title also had to go into a fuel conservation mode in order to make it to the checkered flag. Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson were all behind the wheel of cars that just might make it to the finish under power if they could save a little fuel along the way.
Bowyer ended up with the lead as the final laps went off the board with Hamlin in second, followed by Johnson. Those two drivers may have had something for Bowyer at the end, but neither was willing to risk running out of gas, and in the process take a big hit in the points. Both drivers backed off the accelerator and were content with their finish, knowing that Keselowski had suffered a hit in his bid to win this year’s championship.
Bowyer was able to notch his third win of the season, but just as soon as he started what looked like was going to be an awesome burnout, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver ran out of gas. His crew came to his aid as they celebrated the victory in front of the flag stand before pushing their Toyota to victory lane.
The results of the race saw the title run tighten as not only did Johnson cut the lead down to 7 points behind Keselowski, Hamlin was able to pick up 8 points and now sits 15 points out of the top spot in third. The win was good enough for Bowyer to move up one spot in the standings to fourth and he now trails the leader by 28 points.
Kasey Kahne did finish three spots ahead of Keselowski, but found himself dropping one position in the standings to fifth as he swapped places with Bowyer. He is now 35 points back in the standings and it shows just how hard it is to gain both positions and points in the Chase, even with a top-10 finish. It could be, as we have reached the halfway point of the 10-race Chase, that the championship will now be contested between the top-four drivers.
CHASE NOTES: Talladega and Martinsville are always labeled as the wild-card races on the 10-race Chase schedule, but for this season Kansas Speedway has to be added to that list because of the total repaving job that has taken place since its April race. Kansas didn’t just repave its track, it gave it a major reconfiguration and the original 15 degrees of banking in the turns has now been replaced with 20 degrees of variable banking.
NASCAR rules state that a driver can only be awarded points for his finish in a race if he starts behind the wheel of his car when the green flag waves. Since Dale Earnhardt Jr. did not start the race at Charlotte and will also be out of the car for this weekend’s race at Kansas, he will not add to his point total but can drop no lower than 12th in the standings. Once a driver is in the Chase, he is guaranteed not to finish lower than 12th in the final standings.
The rest of drivers that are not in the Chase are actually racing for the 13th position in points as that is the highest a non-Chase driver can finish on the year.
Event: Hollywood Casino 400
Track: Kansas Speedway (1.5 mile
quad oval, 20 degrees of variable
banking in the turns)
Date: Oct. 21, 2 p.m.
Defending Champion: Jimmie