Monday, November 8, 2010

Phoenix Storylines: All Kinds of Stuff Going on in NASCAR Thanks to Texas

Need a breather after that wild race at Texas Motor Speedway? Too bad. There are two races left to run and one of the closest championship battles ever to decide.

After two races at two big tracks, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series shifts gears to the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway this Sunday for the Kobalt Tools 500. Only 59 points separate the top-three drivers – Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick. That’s the second-closest margin between the top three with two races left in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup era (2004-Present)

The NASCAR Nationwide Series crowned Brad Keselowski its 2010 champion, but there’s still a heated owner’s title to decide. Keselowski’s No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge currently trails the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota by 81 points going into Saturday’s Wypall* 200 powered by Kimberly-Clark Professional at Phoenix.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season also has two to go, and Todd Bodine has his sights set on a second career championship. He can clinch the title this Friday night in the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix.


New Leader, the 11
You’ll have to go back a bit to find the last time Jimmie Johnson failed to hold the points lead at this juncture in the season. In each of his four championship seasons, Johnson was atop series standings with two races to go.

Not this year.

That luxury belongs to Denny Hamlin, who won his series-high eighth race Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Here’s some history Hamlin will like hearing: the points leader with two to go has won the championship every season in the Chase era (2004-2009). The last time the points leader with two races remaining failed to win the championship was 1992, when Bill Elliott relinquished an 85-point advantage to Alan Kulwicki.

Feud Brewing Atop The Box?
Mike Ford, crew chief of the No. 11 team, had some interesting things to say about No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus’ decision to swap pit crews mid-race at Texas: “I think it was kind of a desperation move. But it's something that Jimmie [Johnson], Chad and Rick [Hendrick] needed to do if they wanted to win a championship because they just took their team out of it. They removed their team. Their team got them to this point and they pulled them out, so this is more about trying to win a championship for the company and not the team.”

Knaus decided to replace the usual No. 48 crew with the No. 24 team of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon during Sunday’s race. It was a move that got some attention, to say the least.

The immediate future of the No. 48 over-the-wall crew is currently TBA. Stay tuned.

Johnson Down… For Now
Finally, here’s some good news for Jimmie Johnson: a race at Phoenix is up next.

The one-mile track might be his best. Johnson has won four of the last six races there, and has finished in the top five in each of the last eight. His Driver Rating of 123.7 is by far the best in the series.

But points leader Denny Hamlin and third-place Kevin Harvick are pretty strong there as well. Hamlin has five top fives in 10 starts at Phoenix; Harvick has two victories there in 15 starts.

Harvick and Phoenix Go Way Back
Though Jimmie Johnson owns more Phoenix NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories than any other driver, few have a longer history with the track than Kevin Harvick.

Harvick, who has two NSCS wins and one NASCAR Nationwide wins and four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins at Phoenix, first raced at the one-mile track in a K&N Pro Series West race in 1998. Starting from the pole, Harvick finished second that event.

Gordon vs. Burton Have At It
We have seen it a number of times already this year: drivers showing emotion after the pre-season “Boys, Have At It” edict from NASCAR. To name a few: Joey Logano vs. Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton vs. Kyle Busch; Logano vs. Ryan Newman; Todd Bodine vs. Kyle Busch.

But this past weekend might have been the most interesting case in point.

During a late-race caution at Texas, Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon wrecked on the backstretch. Gordon, clearly upset, got out of his car, walked to Burton and, well, threw down.

The shoving match between NASCAR’s two elder statesmen was quickly broken up, but the bad feelings may continue. Here’s what Gordon had to say after the incident: "I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for him, but I certainly lost a lot of respect today."

- from NASCAR Media Services

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