|Can Matt Kenseth make up some ground on Jimmie Johnson at Phoenix?|
Who will blink first?
The lead in this season’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ has changed for the third time. Now it’s Jimmie Johnson’s turn again to head the standings, by seven points over Matt Kenseth.
That’s hardly breathing room. In fact, Johnson forfeited an identical margin a year ago – the victim of suspension damage and a 32nd-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway – and lost the title to Brad Keselowski.
Johnson, however, was the two-races-to-go leader from 2006-09 – and went on to capture the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title in all four seasons.
Statistically, Phoenix’s AdvoCare 500 (3 p.m. ET ESPN, MRN, SiriusXM Satellite Radio) hardly looks like a fair fight between the two. Johnson has four wins to Kenseth’s one and finished second to his rival’s seventh when the series visited the one-mile oval in March. Johnson’s average finish in the Valley of the Sun is 6.5 vs. Kenseth’s 17.2.
Racing in Phoenix can be unpredictable – especially since the track was repaved and slightly reconfigured in 2011.
An even closer battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series title also rolls into Phoenix for Saturday’s ServiceMaster 200 (4 p.m. ET ESPN2). Austin Dillon clings to a six-point lead over Sam Hornish Jr. – two markers closer than last weekend in Texas where Hornish finished third to Dillon’s fifth.
Hornish won the 200-mile Phoenix race in 2011. Dillon’s best Phoenix finish is fourth – the first of three consecutive top-10 performances at the track.
Matt Crafton requires an average a finish of 18th or better in the remaining two races to capture his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. Crafton leads reigning series champion James Buescher and Ty Dillon by 46 and 47 points, respectively, and can clinch the title by extending his margin over the second-place competitor to 49 markers following Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 (8 p.m. ET FOX Sports 1).
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES – ADVOCARE 500, SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 3 P.M. ET ON ESPN
Johnson Hopes To Regain ‘Closer’ Reputation
Atop the Chase standings for the second time in 2013, Jimmie Johnson has been “the closer” in four of the five seasons (2006-09) he’s been the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader with two races remaining. In 2012, he couldn’t hold a seven-point lead – identical to this year’s margin – after tire failure and a 32nd-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway opened the door for Brad Keselowski. Johnson, a four-time Phoenix winner, finished second in this March’s race at the one-mile oval.
Kenseth Must Battle Phoenix History As Well As Johnson
This week suggests an uphill battle – at least statistically – for Matt Kenseth. Although Kenseth has won at Phoenix (2002), the second-ranked driver’s resume pales in comparison to that of Jimmie Johnson. The most recent of Kenseth’s five top-five finishes came in the fall of 2007. Johnson has finished among the top five in 12 of the last 14 Phoenix events. Johnson’s average finish is 6.5 vs. Kenseth’s 17.2. Kenseth’s March trip to the Valley of the Sun in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota produced a seventh-place finish.
Final Stand For Last Year’s AdvoCare 500 Winner Harvick
Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 truly represents Kevin Harvick’s last stand. Harvick ranks third, 40 points out of the lead. Fall another nine points back and Harvick – winner of last fall’s Phoenix Chase race – will be mathematically eliminated. Harvick swept both Phoenix races in 2006. The Bakersfield, Calif., veteran has finished among the top five in three of his past five starts. Harvick has finished third in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in two of the past three seasons.
Earnhardt Among Battlers For Top-Five Points Finish
Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle – fourth through eighth and 52 to 73 points behind Jimmie Johnson – all face Chase elimination at Phoenix. Their more realistic goal this season is to net a top-five championship finish. Earnhardt holds the hottest hand among the five with two of his three runner-up Chase finishes coming in the past three races. The two-time Phoenix winner no doubt wishes he could toss out the 35th at Chicagoland Speedway. Junior has finished among the top 10 20 times in 2013 – one fewer than his career season highs of 2003-04.
Logano Vaults Into Top 10, Eyes Las Vegas Celebration
Ten Chase competitors will make the on-stage cut for next month’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Awards Banquet in Las Vegas. A third-place finish on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway enabled Joey Logano to reach the current top 10, bypassing 2004 series champion Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards. Logano, competing in his first Chase, is five points ahead of Busch. Edwards, 20 markers behind Busch in 11th; Ryan Newman (-22) and Kasey Kahne (-37) have work to do in the final two events.
Spoiler Role Possible For Phoenix Winners Burton, Hamlin, Martin
Only two drivers outside the Chase field have won the AdvoCare 500. Kyle Busch (2005) and Kasey Kahne (2011) both qualified for this year’s postseason. Non-Chase drivers with a Phoenix victory who will be part of Sunday’s race include Denny Hamlin (2012), Mark Martin (2009, 1993) and Jeff Burton (2000-01).