Hamlin posted top-10 finishes in his first two trips to Charlotte in 2005-06. But after another top 10, the Virginian went through a dry spell – five finishes of 16th or worse – before posting a fourth-place finish in the fall of 2010, Hamlin’s “near-miss” title year.
He’s riding a four-race top-10 streak highlighted by his second-place finish in May’s Coca-Cola 600.
Hamlin’s Charlotte Driver Rating (89.3) is fifth-best among active drivers.
For Chase leader Brad Keselowski, the 1.5-mile track is a work in progress. Keselowski will start just his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup race at a track on which he has one NASCAR Nationwide Series victory. His numbers aren’t great – 21st best Driver Rating (76.8) and average finish of 16.5. He won the Coors Light Pole for last year’s Coca-Cola 600.
Keselowski, however, has proved to be a quick learner. He knocked down his first top-five finish (fifth) in May’s race.
Keselowski has been a model of both speed and consistency. A 30th-place finish at Bristol in August is his only placing outside the top 10 in 14 consecutive races – a streak that began June 30 with a victory at Kentucky Speedway.
By emerging largely unscathed from Talladega’s final-lap chaos, Keselowski became the first in 2012 to lead the Chase in back-to-back weeks. With a seventh-place finish, he increased a single-point lead to 14 over Johnson and 23 over Hamlin.
The leader after four races has gone on to claim the championship five times in the Chase era.