Monday, November 1, 2010

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.


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.

- NASCAR Media Services

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