Don’t miss Orioles players, John Means & Paul Fry, as they guest host at our Brews and O’s event!

For Johnson, clicking in Charlotte is pivotal

NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus had a mediocre season, but the pair's usual late-season charge continues to come together.

Johnson leads the Chase standings, but just 107 points separate Johnson from fifth-place Tony Stewart, last week's winner. Denny Hamlin remains second.

Six races remain, with Saturday's Bank Of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway an undeniably pivotal factor — not just because of the points, but because every team wants to look good in front of their sponsors and the home crowd. That's a big reason there are 51 entries for the 43 starting spots this weekend, including one debut: R3 Motorsports will attempt to make its first Sprint Cup race of the year, with journeyman Johnny Sauter behind the wheel.

Broadcast news: Speed has announced that television veteran Patti Wheeler, daughter of former Charlotte Motor Speedway head Humpy Wheeler, has been named executive vice president of programming and production. Perhaps she can help steer Speed's programming back toward some actual motorsports coverage.

Daytona plans: NASCAR's testing ban will continue for 2011, but an exception will be made for Daytona International Speedway, which will see the return of NASCAR Preseason Thunder for Sprint Cup teams Jan. 20-22. The test is needed to let teams try the new pavement.

And speaking of that pavement, a rumor circulating that the track would not be ready for Grand-Am sports car teams to test there Jan. 7-9 — and consequently they'd be moved to Homestead-Miami Speedway — is false. The paving is actually ahead of schedule and should easily be finished by the end of the year.

— Steven Cole Smith

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