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What to Watch For: Charlotte

Round of 12 Gets Underway at Charlotte

After 4 drivers were eliminated after last week's race at Dover, the Round of 12 will start this week at Charlotte (then races at Talladega and Kansas). Those 3 tracks were run in 3 consecutive races earlier this season in May, with 2 of the races being won by remaining playoff drivers (Martin Truex Jr. at Kansas and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Talladega).

In terms of the odds, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. enter the Round of 12 as the breakaway favorites to win the championship. Kyle Larson is 3rd at 6-1, and then a pack of drivers from 10-1 to 20-1. Then there's 3 longshots at 100-1.

Busch and Truex Jr. have won the 3 playoff races so far, and have led the most laps, but Larson and Chase Elliott have also impressed early.

Truex Back at His Bread and Butter

Over the last 2 seasons, there's been 18 races on 1.5-mile tracks. Martin Truex Jr. has won 6 of those, and led nearly twice as many laps at any other driver. This season, he's won 4 of the 7 races on 1.5-mile tracks with a 3.3 average finish (no finish worse than 8th).

Last year, Martin Truex Jr. won the playoff opener at Chicago (1 of 2 wins in the Round of 16) and looked dominant. But he faltered in the Round of 12, finishing 13th at Charlotte, 11th at Kansas and 40th at Talladega, and was eliminated. He'll hope to avoid a similar fate this year, after also starting the playoffs with a strong Round of 16.

Can Kyle Win a (Points) Race at Charlotte?

Kyle Busch finished the Round of 16 with wins at New Hampshire and Dover. He's looking for the 2nd 3-race win streak of his career, he won 3 in a row in 2015, but that's his only top-10 finish in 4 races coming off back-to-back wins in his Cup Series career.

Kyle Busch will be trying to be the first driver to start a playoffs by winning 3 of the first 4 races. In NASCAR playoff history (dating back to 2004), 6 of the 10 drivers to win at least 3 races in a single postseason ended up winning the championship.

Busch doesn't have many accomplishments left to check off his list, but one thing he's never done is win a points race at Charlotte. It's 1 of 2 tracks, along with Pocono, where Busch hasn't won a Cup Series points race. Although he hasn't won a points race at the track, Busch did win the 2017 All-Star Race at the track, along with 8 XFINITY Series races.

Time for Jimmie to Snap His Drought?

Last week, Jimmie Johnson snapped his career long 15-race drought without a top-5 finish by finishing 3rd at Dover. Still, his winless streak remains at 16 races. Last year, he snapped a career-long 24-race winless drought by winning the playoff race at Charlotte. This is the 7th time in his Cup career Johnson has gone 16-plus races without a win. In 5 of the other 6, the streak was ended at a 1.5-mile track, including twice at Charlotte.

Although Johnson is an 8-time winner at Charlotte, 2 more wins than any other Cup driver at the track, 5 of those wins came in a 6-race span over the 2003-05 seasons. He did win this race last year, though.

Dale Junior's Last Trip to Charlotte

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring from full-time competition after this season, so this could be his last chance to pick up a long-awaited Cup Series points win at Charlotte. Junior finished 5th in his first Cup race at Charlotte after joining Hendrick Motorsports, but has 1 top-5 finish in 16 races at the track since then. Still, he's had great moments at the track.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Notable Moments at Charlotte
May 30, 1999 - Finishes 16th in first career Cup Series start (father finished 6th)
May 20, 2000 - Wins the All-Star Race as a rookie (led only the final 2 laps)
May 28, 2000 - Starts on pole, leads 175 laps, finishes 4th as a rookie
May 29, 2011 - Finished 7th after running out of gas while leading on final lap in attempt to break 104-race winless streak

Who's Hot and Who's Not - Charlotte (Playoff Driver Edition)

HOT
• Martin Truex Jr.: won 4 of 7 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season
• Kyle Busch: 2 playoff wins in 3 races this year (2 in first 122 career playoff races)
• Jimmie Johnson: 8 career Cup Series wins at Charlotte (2 more than any other driver)
• Kevin Harvick: 5 top-2 finishes in last 9 Charlotte races (7 top 10s in span)
• Jamie McMurray: 8.9 Avg finish on 1.5-mile tracks this season (3rd-best among all drivers)

NOT
• Chase Elliott: finished 33rd and 38th in last 2 Charlotte races
• Kyle Larson: 17.0 Avg finish in Round of 12 tracks earlier this season (3rd-worst among 12 remaining playoff drivers); 33rd at Charlotte in May
• Brad Keselowski: finished 39th in 2 of last 3 races on 1.5-mile tracks (wrecked out at Charlotte and Kentucky)
• Ryan Blaney: finished 14th or worse (26.2 Avg finish) in 5 career Cup starts at Charlotte
• Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: 0 top-10 finishes, 2 laps led in 11 career Charlotte races

--- ESPN Stats & Info ---