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Thursday, October 11, 2012
Earnhardt Jr. excelled on upcoming tracks

By Tom McKean


Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty ImagesDale Earnhardt Jr. was looking forward to the 1.5-mile tracks at Charlotte and Kansas.
It was announced Thursday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss both Charlotte and Kansas after being diagnosed with a concussion this week, snapping his streak of 461 consecutive Cup starts, which was the fifth-longest active streak.

Earnhardt Jr. enters this weekend 11th in the Chase standings and 51 points adrift of the leader, meaning he had virtually no chance at a title even before it was announced he would not compete in the next two events.

NASCAR.com projections gave him just a 1.7 percent chance of claiming the championship, the worst of any Chase driver.

As for the upcoming schedule, the two tracks Earnhardt Jr. will miss are both 1.5 miles. That’s significant, because no driver had a better average finish on 1.5-mile venues this season than Earnhardt Jr. (7.4). He finished seventh at Kansas in the spring and sixth at Charlotte.

Keselowski Up Against the Odds
Elsehwere, Brad Keselowski enjoys a 14-point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the Chase standings as the series heads to Charlotte, thanks in part to a top-10 finish in all four Chase starts this year. He’s the only driver to notch four top 10s in the Chase, and his 3.8 average finish in that span is by far the best in Cup.

He’s on top despite leading just 94 laps during the Chase while both Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin have led over 200 each. He was able to add to his points lead at Talladega, however, by avoiding major damage in the final wreck and finishing seventh. Keselowski picked up 11 spots on the final trip around, while Johnson finished 17th after failing to gain any positions on the final lap.

Five-time champion Johnson is still very much alive, however, and heads to one of his strongest venues. His six wins at Charlotte are tied with legends Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for the most all-time, and he has been very strong on 1.5-mile tracks this season, which comprise four of the final six events, including Charlotte.

Johnson has an 8.6 average finish on 1.5-mile tracks this season while Keselowski’s is just 12.7.

Hamlin is certainly another title contender as he trails the leader by 23 points. He is the only driver to have multiple wins on the remaining tracks this season (won at Phoenix and Kansas), and among Chase drivers, his 4.4 average finish this year on remaining tracks is also best.