Posted by: Dave Thompson, follow @phillyfan17
October 7, 2017
The NASCAR playoffs head to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the first race of Round 2 in the playoffs. Each week, Motor Racing Digest writers will follow their remaining drivers during their playoff pursuit of a NASCAR championship. Here is a weekend preview for Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray.
Brad Keselowski will make his 17 career Cup start at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday. He only win at CMS came back in 2013. In 16 previous starts, Keselowski has an average finish of 15th. Until the Coca-Cola 600 at CMS back in May (he finished 39th after a crash on lap 19), he had a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes.
Keselowski overcame some struggles in practice to grab 6th-position in qualifying on Friday.
“That’s not bad at all,” said Keselowski. “We had our hands full in practice and it was a really nice recovery by the team.”
Prediction: Keselowski will be competitive with the Toyota teams on Sunday, but not enough to take home a win. He finishes with a top-five.
Hamlin returns to the 1.5-mile quad-oval ready for victory after finishing fifth at the Coca-Cola 600 back in May, his seventh top-five and 15th top-ten finish at the track. After dealing with engine failure while running second during this race last October, Hamlin is looking to make a strong comeback this weekend to secure his seat in the next NASCAR Playoffs Round of 8.
Hamlin earned his first pole of the season in Friday’s qualifying at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The pole was the 25th of his career and also extended his streak to a least one pole per season throughout his Cup career.
After qualifying, Hamlin was asked about the importance of track position over pit selection at Charlotte.
“I think it’s 50/50,” said Hamlin. “Track position is only good if your car is fast enough to hold the position. But that pit stall can pay off all day long and we know my pit crew can do amazing things with a good pit stall, so we’ll see how it all pans out.”
Prediction: The pole doesn’t equate to a win for Hamlin, but he does finish with a top-five.
McMurray will make his 31st start in MENCS competition at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday. In 2002, he set the series record for the fewest starts before a first win, when he won at CMS in just his second start. Since then he has scored two wins and a total of seven top-five and 11 top-10 finishes, completing 10,240 of 10,720 laps and leading 279 circuits around the 1.5-mile quad-oval.
McMurray enters Round 2 of the NASCAR Playoffs in 12th, but don’t count him out from moving on to the next round.
He will start from the 18th position on Sunday after a disappointing qualifying session. McMurray was asked after qualifying about the VHT compound applied to the track to help with traction.
“The VHT is just really slick,” said McMurray. “It seems that has worked well at some race tracks, it just hasn’t here. I got my right-side tires in it and you can’t get out of it once you get in it.”
Prediction: McMurray finished 12th at Charlotte back in May and I expect he will finish slightly better than his starting position (18th) and earn a top-15.