Martin Truex Jr. the one to beat at CMS, but keep an eye on the No. 3

Martin Truex Jr. (78) and Austin Dillon (3) are two of the drivers still alive in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/LAT Photographic)
WPPROD

If Mother Nature will cooperate with us, Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be the only night race in the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the championship.

Now let me refresh everyone’s memory from what happened at Charlotte back in May. NASCAR’s hottest driver, Martin Truex Jr., led all but eight of the 400 laps in the Coca Cola 600.

Here’s another scary little tidbit for his competitors as if they needed anything else to worry about. Back in the spring at Kansas and Charlotte, Martin led 564 of the total 667 laps run between those two races.

We’re at Charlotte Saturday night and guess where we race next Sunday? You guessed it, it’s Kansas Speedway, so I can’t think of two better tracks for Martin to be starting Round 2 of the Chase at.

The other thing to remember is this is the first of the three 500-mile races in the Chase, with the other two being Talladega and Texas Motor Speedway.

Again, if Mother Nature will play ball with us, the May race and this Saturday night’s race will be somewhat similar. Granted, Charlotte Motor Speedway has been sitting since May in the record-setting North Carolina heat up to this point.

So how in the world do you look at anyone else other than Martin Truex Jr. as the favorite to win the Bank of America 500?

In reality, that seems to be the case wherever we go. He is just bad-fast from the minute they unload the truck on Friday to the checkered flag. Martin told me, though, that he and his team know there are no guarantees. They just have to keep doing what they are doing with the hopes it plays out in their favor.

One guy I’m also going to keep my eye on is young Austin Dillon. Remember that this second round of the Chase is Charlotte, Kansas and then Talladega. If you go back to those three races in the spring, Austin’s average finish was an amazing seventh. Could he be the sleeper that no one saw coming?  I know there are a lot of folks that when they filled out their brackets before the Chase even started, never had Austin making it even past the first round.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is still one of the trickiest race tracks on the entire circuit that a crew chief and engineer has to deal with. Once again, depending on what hand Mother Nature deals, there might be limited practice so I think this will be a place where experience prevails. It’s where a crew chief with a full notebook from Charlotte prevails.

If you look at past history, Charlotte Motor Speedway has been a great track for all 12 of the remaining Chase drivers. We’ve had six different winners in the last six races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and ironically all six are current Chase drivers.

So, as I mentioned, I’m going to keep my eye on that No. 3 car of Austin Dillon’s, but I still think you are going to have to beat that No. 78 car driven by Truex if you are going to win Saturday night.