Texas Storylines: Three Driver Race is Getting Good
Only three races remain, and it looks like a high-stakes, three-driver battle for the big prize – the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
A near record-breaking race at Talladega did exactly what Jimmie Johnson had fretted about all these weeks – tightened the points like never before. Only 38 points separate the top-three drivers (Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick).
Race No. 8 of 10 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is set for Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the AAA Texas 500. Last year, Johnson wrecked, severely affecting the points standings.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series returns to action this weekend, also at Texas, for the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge. The event will have a championship feel, as Brad Keselowski could clinch the series title if he leaves the race with a 390-point advantage over second place. He is currently up by 485 points.
The triple-header weekend begins with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and its points got a little tighter after the usual Talladega melee. Points leader Todd Bodine wrecked, and saw his lead dwindle to 216 points. This weekend’s event is the WinStar World Casino 350k on Friday night.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
A Three For All: With Three Races Remaining, A Three-Man Hunt For The Championship
This 2010 championship is tight. Very tight. In fact, it’s the closest in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup era.
The points margin between the top-three drivers is the closest with three races remaining since the inception of the Chase in 2004. Four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson leads Denny Hamlin by 14 points and Kevin Harvick by 38. The 14-point spread between first and second is the second closest since 2004.
The “Big Three” All Strong At Texas
There’s no reason to think the championship picture will become any clearer after Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. All three frontrunners – Johnson, Hamlin and Harvick – have had success at the 1.5-mile track. Johnson won there in 2007, and finished second in the spring race. Hamlin won in the spring and was the runner-up in this race last season. Harvick is coming off two consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas.
Texas, The Great Unknown
To a man, every driver pointed to last weekend’s race at Talladega as the big question mark in the Chase. But, historically, Texas might deserve that title.
Last year, Jimmie Johnson wrecked and finished 38th, tightening the points gap dramatically. In 2005, then-contender Greg Biffle had a lug-nut issue on pit road, essentially killing his title hopes. Seems bad luck follows those in contention.
Another angle to consider: Texas is a headache-inducer for crew chiefs. Texas races often come down to fuel mileage strategy, and getting it precisely right could be the difference between victory and standings disaster. That will put the impetus on Chad Knaus (Johnson’s crew chief), Mike Ford (Hamlin’s) and Gil Martin (Harvick) to nail the call. Last year, Kurt Busch and Pat Tryson got it right, leading to the largest margin of victory since the inception of electronic timing and scoring in 1993 – 25.686 seconds.
Spoiler List Grows
In past weeks, a spoiler could be defined as any driver outside the top 12. Now, with positions 4-12 seemingly out of the championship hunt, anyone outside the top three could wear the spoiler tag.
Two spoilers to consider: Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Gordon’s career-long winless drought has reached 62 races, but could end this weekend. His last victory came at Texas, in April of 2009, and he has led a total of 581 laps at Texas, more than any other driver.
Despite a poor Talladega finish by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (39th), he did lead a race-high 24 laps after leading 90 laps at Martinsville. Earnhardt is the only non-Chase driver who ranks in the top 10 in pre-race Driver Rating at Texas (96.4).
Hunter To Be Remembered At Darlington
The sport lost a true giant last Friday night with the passing of Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s Vice President of Corporate Communications. Here are the arrangements for Hunter, which will take place Tuesday and Wednesday of this week:
Tuesday, Nov. 2, 5–7 p.m. – Visitation at Darlington Raceway.
Wednesday, Nov. 3, 11 a.m. – Celebration of Jim’s life at Darlington Presbyterian Church, 311 Pearl Street, Darlington, S.C. followed by a reception at Darlington Raceway.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The NASCAR Foundation at NASCAR Plaza, 550 South Caldwell Street, Suite 2000, Charlotte, N.C. 28202 or to Halifax Health-Hospice of Volusia/Flagler, 3800 Woodbriar Trail, Port Orange, Fla. 32129.
Wednesday, July 8 9:00 AM NSCS HAULERS ENTER 1:00 PM - 9:30 PM NSCS GARAGE OPEN 3:00 PM 5:00 PM NSCS PRACTICE 6:00 PM 8:00 PM NSCS PRACTICE
Friday, July 10 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM NSCS GARAGE OPEN 9:30 AM NSCS ROOKIE & SPOTTER MEETINGS & RANDOM DRAWING 10:30 - 11:55 AM NSCS PRACTICE 1:00 - 2:25 PM NSCS FINAL PRACTICE 2:30 PM NSCS QUALIFYING INSPECTION BEGINS 5:45 PM NSCS QUALIFYING
Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Crispy Toyota) · One win, three top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 4.500, series-best · Average Running Position of 5.270, series-best · Driver Rating of 124.3, series-best · 139 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 172.614, series-fastest · 1003 Laps in the Top 15 (93.9), series-most · 99 Quality Passes, 11th-most
Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · Two top 10s · Average finish of 11.500, eighth-best · Average Running Position of 13.430, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 89.4, 11th-best · 21 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.179, 13th-fastest · 603 Laps in the Top 15 (56.5), 12th-most · 112 Quality Passes, seventh-most
Dale Earnhardt Jr (No. 88 NATIONWIDE Chevrolet) · Two top fives, two top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 12.750, 10th-best · Average Running Position of 12.607, eighth-best · Driver Rating of 90.7, ninth-best · 32 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.518, 10th-fastest · 633 Laps in the Top 15 (59.3), 11th-most · 106 Quality Passes, ninth-most
Carl Edwards (No. 19 COMCAST MINIONS Toyota) · One top five, one top 10 · Average finish of 15.750, 12th-best · Average Running Position of 12.755, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 87.2, 12th-best · 20 Fastest Laps Run, second-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.201, 12th-fastest · 662 Laps in the Top 15 (62.0), 10th-most · 107 Quality Passes, eighth-most
Jeff Gordon (No. 24 AARP Member Advantages Chevrolet) · One top five, four top 10s · Average finish of 7.250, fourth-best · Average Running Position of 12.069, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 95.4, sixth-best · 41 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.777, seventh-fastest · 736 Laps in the Top 15 (68.9), seventh-most · 140 Quality Passes, fourth-most
Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota) · One top five, one top 10 · Average finish of 22.750, 13th-best · Average Running Position of 18.688, 13th-best · Driver Rating of 85.2, 13th-best · 34 Fastest Laps Run, series-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 172.252, third-fastest · 558 Laps in the Top 15 (52.2), 13th-most · 87 Quality Passes, 13th-most
Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser/Jimmy John's Chevrolet) · Two top 10s · Average finish of 11.000, seventh-best · Average Running Position of 10.600, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 95.2, seventh-best · 17 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.767, eighth-fastest · 884 Laps in the Top 15 (82.8), fourth-most · 133 Quality Passes, fifth-most
Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Pro Services Chevrolet) · One top five, four top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 7.000, third-best · Average Running Position of 6.292, second-best · Driver Rating of 116.6, second-best · 127 Fastest Laps Run, 11th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 172.573, second-fastest · 963 Laps in the Top 15 (90.2), third-most · 142 Quality Passes, third-most
Kasey Kahne (No. 5 LIFTMASTER Chevrolet) · One top five, two top 10s · Average finish of 8.500, fifth-best · Average Running Position of 12.879, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 98.9, fifth-best · 64 Fastest Laps Run, ninth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 172.039, fifth-fastest · 709 Laps in the Top 15 (66.4), eighth-most · 145 Quality Passes, second-most
Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) · One win, two top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 4.500, second-best · Average Running Position of 9.208, third-best · Driver Rating of 107.2, fourth-best · 79 Fastest Laps Run, 13th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 172.189, fourth-fastest · 972 Laps in the Top 15 (91.0), second-most · 181 Quality Passes, series-most
Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford) · Two wins, two top fives, three top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 10.500, sixth-best · Average Running Position of 10.234, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 116.1, third-best · 171 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.863, sixth-fastest · 840 Laps in the Top 15 (78.7), fifth-most · 88 Quality Passes, 12th-most
Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil/AutoTrader Ford) · One top five, two top 10s · Average finish of 12.250, ninth-best · Average Running Position of 11.292, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 94.7, eighth-best · 25 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.579, ninth-fastest · 669 Laps in the Top 15 (62.6), ninth-most · 101 Quality Passes, 10th-most
Ryan Newman (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet) · Two top fives, two top 10s · Average finish of 13.750, 11th-best · Average Running Position of 12.857, 10th-best · Driver Rating of 90.2, 10th-best · 14 Fastest Laps Run, third-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 171.476, 11th-fastest · 776 Laps in the Top 15 (72.7), sixth-most · 113 Quality Passes, sixth-most