NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

 
                   === Can Johnson rebound at Charlotte? ===
 
 Philadelphia,  PA  (Sports Network)  - Now  that Talladega  is in the rearview
 mirror,  all 12 drivers in the Chase for Sprint Cup championship can breathe a
 sigh of relief.
 
 The  Chase "wild card" race at Talladega is done, and now it's time to move on
 to  the "homecoming" event on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Four
 of  the  last six races this  season will be contested on 1.5-mile racetracks,
 beginning with Charlotte. Kansas (Oct. 21), Texas (Nov. 4) and Homestead (Nov.
 18) are the others.
 
 After  finishing  seventh at  Talladega, Brad  Keselowski increased his points
 lead from five to 14 over Jimmie Johnson, who finished 17th. Johnson was among
 those involved in the 25-car crash that occurred on the final lap.
 
 For  many  years,  Johnson  had  been  dominant  at  Charlotte.  The  Hendrick
 Motorsports  driver  and five-time  Sprint Cup Series  champion has earned six
 victories  in  points-paying races at Charlotte,  including four in a row from
 May  2004 to  Oct. 2005. His last win  in a points race there came in the 2009
 fall event.
 
 Johnson struggled at Charlotte in 2011. He finished 28th in the Coca-Cola 600.
 In  last  year's Chase  race there,  his chance  of winning a record-extending
 sixth  straight  series title essentially came  to an end when he crashed hard
 into  the outside wall  in the closing laps and finished 34th. He had kept his
 title hopes alive when he won the week prior at Kansas.
 
 But  Johnson has  had better luck at  Charlotte this season. He won the NASCAR
 Sprint  All-Star Race  (non-points). Days before the all-star event, Johnson's
 No. 48 team claimed the victory in the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge. He concluded
 the spring festivities at Charlotte with an 11th-place run in the 600.
 
 "I love that track," Johnson said. "We won the all-star race and ran very well
 in the 600, so I feel like we'll be there and be a threat, and I need to be at
 this time of the year. We need to be on top of things."
 
 Martinsville,  a 0.526-mile  short  track,  is scheduled  for  Oct. 28,  while
 Phoenix,  a  flat one-mile oval, is  slated for Nov. 11. Johnson has performed
 very well at those two tracks in the past.
 
 "I  love the races  in the Chase," he said. "They are very good tracks for us.
 When I look down the lineup, I get very fired up for all of them. Martinsville
 isn't  too  far away.  At Texas,  we were  really strong  in the spring there.
 Phoenix is good. Homestead has been good to us. So I feel like we've got a lot
 of great racetracks coming up."
 
 Two  of  Keselowski's five victories  this season have come  on the mile and a
 halfs. The Penske Racing driver won the June 30 race at Kentucky and the first
 Chase event on Sept. 16 at Chicagoland.
 
 "Our  record  this year on the  intermediate tracks is very solid," Keselowski
 said.  "With 1.5-mile  tracks making up the  majority of the rest of the Chase
 schedule,  I'm pretty happy  that we were able to come out of Talladega with a
 nice lead, because I think we are set up for a good second half to the Chase."
 
 Keselowski  has  only one top-10  finish in six  races at Charlotte. He placed
 fifth  there earlier  this year.  Keselowski does  have two  Nationwide Series
 victories at this track -- Oct. 2010 and May 2012.
 
 Heading to Charlotte, Denny Hamlin is 23 points behind Keselowski, while Kasey
 Kahne trails by 36, Clint Bowyer 40 and Jeff Gordon 42.
 
 Seventh  through  12th in the  Chase rankings  are: Tony Stewart (-46), Martin
 Truex  Jr.  (-48), Greg Biffle (-49),  Kevin Harvick (-49), Dale Earnhardt Jr.
 (-51) and Matt Kenseth (-62).
 
 Earnhardt  Jr. will  not compete at Charlotte and Kansas after being diagnosed
 with  a concussion  following the Talladega race. He was involved in the last-
 lap  crash. Regan  Smith  will substitute  for  Earnhardt Jr.  in  the No.  88
 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for both of those races.
 
 Kenseth, who is in his last year with Roush Fenway Racing, bounced back in the
 Chase  by  winning at  Talladega. He had  finished 14th, 18th  and 35th in the
 first three postseason races.
 
 "We  had a  really rough  few  weeks in  the  Chase, with  parts breaking  and
 following  off  and not  getting  good  finishes  and  not running  good,  and
 everybody  was getting  close to being at each other's throats and things like
 that,"  Kenseth said. "So it's important for me to try to keep that whole unit
 as a cohesive front-running championship-contending unit. So I'm hoping in the
 next six weeks we can continue this momentum, hoping we can get another win or
 two  and finish  as high as we can in  the points and end this thing on a high
 note."
 
 Kenseth  won last year's Chase race at Charlotte. He passed Kyle Busch for the
 lead  with  25 laps remaining and  then held off  Busch after a restart with a
 dozen  laps  left to win there  for the first  time since his rookie season in
 2000.
 
 Before he heads to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2013 season, Kenseth is hoping his
 No. 17 Roush Fenway team will end the year on a high note.
 
 "They've  been working  really hard, especially on our stuff for Charlotte and
 our  intermediate  stuff," he said. "So  I think everybody at Roush Fenway was
 disappointed  in  our performance at  Atlanta, Chicago, and really even Dover,
 for that matter.
 
 "They've been really on it. They've been working really, really hard to try to
 get  our stuff better.  And I'm really looking forward to getting on the track
 and  seeing  the progress that  we made,  and hopefully being competitive this
 weekend."
 
 Forty-seven  teams  are on the preliminary  entry list for the Bank of America
 500.  Kurt Busch  will  make his  first  start  in the  No.  78 Chevrolet  for
 Furniture Row Racing. Smith previously drove that car.
 
 Qualifying for this race is scheduled for Thursday at 7:10 p.m. (ET).
 
 Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Saturday, Oct. 13. 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. 2011 Winner: Matt Kenseth. Television: ABC.
 Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.
 
 
 10/11 10:45:14 ET

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