CONCORD N.C. – Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon earned starting spots inside the top 13 during Thursday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying session at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Regan Smith, who is filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr., will roll off the grid 26th in Saturday night’s race, the fifth event in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
In 57 events (191 starts) at Charlotte, Hendrick Motorsports has 17 wins, which ranks as the best all-time among teams at the 1.5-mile oval. Kahne most recently won the 600-mile event there in May and has four career victories at Charlotte. His Hendrick Motorsports teammates Johnson (seven) and Gordon (six) rank first and second, respectively, among active drivers in wins at the 1.5-mile track. Johnson needs one more victory there to break a three-way tie for first all time with NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.
Saturday’s race will be broadcast on television (7 p.m. ET on ABC) and radio (6:30 p.m. ET on PRN). Check local listings.
Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet
At Charlotte: In 17 Cup events at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kahne’s four wins and nine top-10s are personal bests, while his seven top-five finishes are tied for first with Michigan International Speedway. Kahne has completed 96.7 percent of the laps he has attempted at the 1.5-mile oval and has led a personal best 807 laps at the track. His 12.7 average finish at Charlotte ranks as his second-best among current tracks. Kahne’s average driver rating in points-paying events at Charlotte during the last seven years ranks him third with a score of 97.5.
Most recently: Kahne earned the pole position at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway during Cup action last weekend, marking his first career pole at the superspeedway. He led the first seven laps of the 188-lap race before bouncing in and out of the draft. He consistently ran with the leaders until Lap 100. At that point, his No. 5 Chevrolet had run out of fuel, so Kahne hit pit road just as the caution flag waved. He was able to return to the track before the leaders lapped him. When the caution flag waved again on Lap 183, Kahne stayed on track and climbed to 10th in the running order. As the final three laps ticked down, the No. 5 Chevy was collected in a multi-car incident that affected most of the field. Kahne ultimately placed 12th and ranks fourth in the championship standings.
Kahne says: “It’s great to go back to Charlotte as the defending winner. The win in May was a total team effort and was really big for us to get that victory. I think we’ve only gotten stronger since then. I hope we can be back out front and sweep the season here.”
Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet
At Charlotte: Gordon owns five wins, eight pole positions, 16 top-five finishes and 21 top-10s in 39 starts at Charlotte. The driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet has led 677 laps at the site of his first Cup victory. Gordon’s driver rating of 87.7 ranks him ninth among active drivers in the past 15 races at Charlotte. According to NASCAR loop data for the same timeframe, Gordon also ranks ninth for fastest laps run at the intermediate track (176) and eighth for laps in the top 15 (3,001).
Most recently: Gordon rolled off the grid sixth at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet held with the main pack and took the lead on Lap 72 for seven circuits. With 28 laps to go in the 188-lap race, Gordon was running 17th and instructed by spotter Eddie D’Hondt to save just a bit of fuel. Gordon moved into the top 15 and navigated his way through the multi-car incident that unfolded on the final lap to claim runner-up honors. His performance helped him improve in the championship standings and he now ranks sixth.
Gordon says: "I am really looking forward to this weekend's race - this is as excited as I've been heading into Charlotte in quite a while. We had a good car here earlier this year and we've had some strong runs recently. We just need to continue to run in the top five and be in position to battle for the win at the end of the race."
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 mylowes Chevrolet
At Charlotte: Johnson has earned six wins, 10 top-five finishes, 14 top-10s and three poles in 22 starts at Charlotte. With a driver rating of 111, the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet ranks first among active drivers in the past 15 races at the 1.5-mile track. Johnson also ranks first for fastest laps (488), laps in the top 15 (4,599) and average starting position (6.3).
Most recently: Johnson’s race-opening strategy at Talladega Superspeedway was to hang in the back of the pack and wait for the right moment. After starting 17th, Johnson held his position. When green-flag pit stops cycled through around Lap 60, Johnson took the lead for 10 laps on Lap 62 before making his own pit road stop. On Lap 175, Knaus informed Johnson that his No. 48 Chevy would run out of fuel between Turns 3 and 4 on the final lap, and he should be ready because the majority of the field likely would encounter the same thing. Johnson, now fuel-conscious, slid to 18th as the final laps ticked down. Johnson was collected in a last-lap incident and ultimately was scored 17th. He ranks second in the driver standings.
Johnson says: “When they repaved it (Charlotte), it changed things and kind of equalized the field. And we’ve been very competitive. Last year, we had probably the best car and one of the top two or three cars, and I just crashed late after trying to overcome some pit strategy issues we had. So, I feel good. I love that track. 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.”
Regan Smith, driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet
At Charlotte: In seven Cup starts at Charlotte, Smith has one top-10 result -- an eighth-place finish he scored in the May 2011 event. Smith, who has been competing in the Cup Series for six years, ranks first as the best closer among competitors at Charlotte in the last 15 races. He is filling in this weekend for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Most recently: Smith is coming off a fifth-place finish in last weekend's Cup event at Talladega Superspeedway. Then, driving the No. 78 Chevrolet, Smith rallied from a 28th-place starting spot at the 2.66-mile superspeedway to capture his first top-five finish of the 2012 season.
Smith says: “Certainly it is big shoes to fill in for. I think first and foremost, his health and his safety is the priority. Obviously it is not something you want to play with, so whatever it takes to get him back is everybody’s priority right now. Looking toward this weekend, we want to do the same stuff this team does every weekend, and that is go out, and try to get the pole and try to win the race; and do him, and the JR Nation proud. That is what the goal is.”