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Chase reaching halfway point at Charlotte

12:39 PM, Oct 10, 2013   |    comments
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Concord, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship moves on to its "homecoming" race on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR' postseason hits the midway point at Charlotte. After finishing 11th in last weekend's race at Kansas, Matt Kenseth saw his lead in the Chase trimmed to just three points over Jimmie Johnson, who placed sixth.

Kevin Harvick moved up to third in the rankings with his win at Kansas. Harvick, who is in his last year with Richard Childress Racing before moving over to Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season, trails Kenseth by 25 points. He scored his third victory this season.

In May, Harvick won the 600-mile race at Charlotte after capitalizing on pit strategy. The final caution with 15 laps remaining set up a round of pit stops. Harvick made a two-tire change and came out of the pits first. Kasey Kahne opted not to pit and took over the lead. After the last restart with 11 laps to go, he passed Kahne for the top spot and then beat him to the finish line by 1.5 seconds for the victory.

"Good pit strategy, that's what we hit on last time we were at Charlotte Motor Speedway," Harvick said. "We had a decent car in May, but (crew chief) Gil (Martin) made the right call at the end to put us in position to have a good restart. Once we were in the right spot, we were able to hold the lead once we got there and were able to pick up the win."

Harvick's Charlotte win, though, was overshadowed by a rope cable from an overhead Fox Sports television camera that snapped and fell on the track and grandstand area, injuring 10 spectators and damaging several race cars. The nylon rope from the camera dropped on the track and in the grandstand area in turn 4 during lap 122. The incident forced NASCAR to stop the race two separate times, with the first red-flag period lasting 11 minutes and the second for 16 minutes.

Should Harvick win this weekend's race and then go on to capture the Sprint Cup Series championship, he would become just the third competitor to score a Charlotte-sweep during his championship season. Richard Petty accomplished the feat in 1975, and Dale Earnhardt did so in 1986.

Since the Chase began in 2004, Johnson is the only driver to win the fall race at Charlotte and claim the series title in the same season, doing it in 2009. He is tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for most victories at this track with six each. Johnson has not won a points-paying event here in four years. In fact, he has scored only one top-10 finish in the last five races at Charlotte.

"The track has been really good to us over the years, and I certainly need another strong performance there, the way things are going in the Chase right now," Johnson said.

Four of Kenseth's seven victories this season have occurred at 1.5-mile racetracks, including last month's Chase opener at Chicagoland. He won the fall race at Charlotte in 2011 but has finished 10th, 14th and 15th here since then.

"With (Charlotte) being a 1.5-mile track, those are the types of tracks that typically we've run decent at, so hopefully we can have a good run Saturday night, stay up front, and stay in the running for the Chase," Kenseth said.

Heading into the fifth race in the Chase, Jeff Gordon is fourth in points (-32), followed by Kyle Busch (-35), Greg Biffle (-44) and Kurt Busch (-47).

Eighth through 13th are: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-54), Clint Bowyer (-55), Joey Logano (-59), Carl Edwards (-60), Ryan Newman (-73) and Kasey Kahne (-83). Bowyer won last year's Chase race at Charlotte.

Earnhardt is expected to make his 500th career start in NASCAR's top series. He made his series debut in May 1999 at Charlotte. Since then, Earnhardt has accumulated 19 wins, 111 top-5 finishes, 199 top-10s and 13 poles. His most recent pole came two weeks ago at Dover. He has not been to victory lane since June 2012 (49 races ago).

"It doesn't seem like I've been around that long to be honest with you," said Earnhardt, who turned 39 years old on Thursday. "It just doesn't. We run a lot more races during the season than we did in year's past. It's been a pleasure being a part of the series and seeing the changes and the growth. I hope to be around and witness a lot more."

Two drivers have won in their 500th start: Richard Petty in 1970 and Matt Kenseth three weeks ago at New Hampshire.

Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the Bank of America 500. Qualifying is scheduled for Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET.

Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Saturday, Oct. 12. Race: Bank of America 500. Site: Charlotte Motor Speedway. Track: 1.5-mile oval. Start time: 7:30 p.m. ET. Laps: 334. Miles: 501. 2012 Winner: Clint Bowyer. Television: ABC. Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.

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