By Micah Roberts
Even though no one would draft with Johnson all day, he still found himself in seventh-place when the race was over, only five positions behind Harvick and finished two positions better than Hamlin. However little the gains were, all three are bunched up for the stretch run. Who could ask for anything more? We have the three best drivers in NASCAR all season long going head to head for all the marbles.
The final three races, beginning this week at Texas, has been what Denny Hamlin has been looking forward to. His entire goal of the Chase for the Championship coming in was to be leading, or close, because he felt confident that he could duplicate what he did in the last three races in 2009 where he gained 435 points by finishing runner-up at Texas, third at phoenix and winning in Miami. He’s currently only 14 points behind Johnson.
If we look at the same formula for Johnson in the last three races, he could be in trouble. Texas ate him up bad in the Chase last year with a 38th-place finish -- his worst run during the 2009 Chase. Johnson gained only 49 points from that race and totaled 404 points in the final three. Should Johnson and Hamlin each have similar runs to last year, Hamlin would be the Sprint Cup Champions this year.
As for Harvick, he wasn’t even in the Chase last season but the Chase is where the entire RCR team made some changes for the better that propelled he and his two teammates into the Chase. Harvick accumulated 416 points in the final three races last year which would make him come up a little short against both Hamlin and Johnson. He’s currently 38 points behind and will be racing on tracks that haven’t been traditionally his best.
As for handicapping this weeks race at Texas, we have a lot of data to use from the entire season of races on 1.5-mile high banked tracks with the most recent piece of information coming from the Charlotte race a few weeks ago where Jamie McMurray held off Kyle Busch for the win. Tony Stewart won in Atlanta just before the Chase started and if we go way back to April when the series last stopped at Texas, we can see that Hamlin won.
By using the three sister tracks of Atlanta, Charlotte and Texas along with Las Vegas, we’ve got six races we can look at from the 2010 season. Chances are that drivers who did well between those tracks collectively will do well this week with a slighter lean on what happened most recently at Charlotte and Atlanta.
When looking at all, it’s to figure that Johnson won’t run well this week. He finished third at both Atlanta and Charlotte, runner-up to Hamlin at Texas and won at Las Vegas. For him to finish outside of the top-five this week, he’ll need have an occurrence like happened last year at Texas when he got in a wreck on the third lap.
Kurt Busch won this race last year and also managed to capture wins earlier this season in Atlanta and then both the All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May. Howvere, in his most recent runs on these types of tracks, Busch wasn’t as dominant and managed a best of only sixth.
Kyle Busch might be the driver to key on this week. When his brother won this race last season, it was only because Kyle had run out fuel late while leading. Kyle also has had great recent success on these tracks having finished second at Charlotte and fifth in Atlanta.
Early Top 5 Finish Prediction:
1) #18 Kyle Busch (8/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
3) #16 Greg Biffle (12/1)
4) #11 Denny Hamlin (12/1)
5) #2 Kurt Busch (10/1)
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