In this week's NASCAR Minute, Gateway Motorsports Park owner Curtis Francois came by to talk about this weekend's Chase race in Charlotte. In the new format, everybody still has a chance to win, but there are clear favorites. Jimmy Johnson has had the most career success in Charlotte, but he will have his hand full this weekend.
Jimmie Johnson might hold the Charlotte Motor Speedway record with seven wins, but lately Kevin Harvick has been better there. In his last seven starts at the 1.5-mile track, Harvick has registered two wins, three runner-ups and no showing worse than ninth.
The No. 4 Chevrolet driver will attempt to notch another Queen City victory in Saturday's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBC) – the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Round of 12 opener. Harvick won the event in 2014, the last time it was run at night. Last year, he finished second to Joey Logano when the race was held in the day on Sunday following a Saturday night rainout.
"I think Charlotte, just because of the fact we've had so much success there," said Harvick when asked what Round of 12 track he was most excited to go to. "We've run well there really every time we've been there with our Stewart-Haas Racing cars. Going there this weekend is definitely something I'm looking forward to. Any race track where you've had some success at, you definitely want to go back."
A win would earn Harvick more than just a trophy, it would advance him to the Chase's Round of 8. The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has visited Victory Lane at all three tracks in the Round of 12 – Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega - indicating a third straight trip to the Round of 8 might be inevitable.
"It's nice to know that you can go to any of these race tracks and win because we have," Harvick said. "They're all hard to win at and I think as you look at Charlotte, trying to put the car back in Victory Lane is the first goal, and if you can't, try to get the best finish that you can. That comes with no mistakes and if you do have a mistake, overcome it and capitalize on the moment if you have it to actually get to Victory Lane.
Despite his success at all three tracks, Harvick is focused on this weekend's race. In 31 career starts at Charlotte, including 15 in the fall, Harvick boasts three wins, seven top-five and 14 top-10 finishes.
"There could be challenges no matter where you go," he said. "Charlotte is a very finicky race track and with the way that we practice, most of the practice will be during the day with the race at night. So temperature has a huge factor in how the race track changes and how they pace changes, so you have to try to guess a little bit to that. And obviously the weather can be a little bit of an issue as we creep into the weekend. You have to try to plan and balance all of those things to have a good plan, but you have to be ready to abort that plan and come up with a new one on the fly at any given point."
Erik Jones tries to stave off elimination from XFINITY Chase
Entering the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase with a series-leading four wins and the 12 bonus points that came with them, Erik Jones seemed like an absolute lock to make the playoffs' Round of 8 if not the Championship 4.
He sure doesn't look like a lock right now.
Jones goes into Friday's Drive for the Cure 300 Chase cutoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN) four points below Brennan Poole on the cutoff line. If he can't make up those points, he will be eliminated from championship contention.
Jones dug himself into his current predicament by finishing 28th at Kentucky and 16th at Dover. In three career starts at Charlotte, Jones has finished 15th (spring 2015), second (fall 2015) and 31st (spring 2016).
“We have a good team, we just have to do it right," Jones said. "I know this 20 team builds fast cars and I know this weekend at Charlotte will be no different. We just need to go out and execute and hopefully get into the next round. A lot of work and a lot of pressure, but I think we can do it.”