Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Texas Storylines

Jimmie Johnson has one win at Texas (2007)  over his career (Getty)
Texas Motor Speedway awaits the NASCAR national series competitors, and of course, everything’s bigger in Texas.

Except the points spread between NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.

Or the NASCAR Nationwide Series spread between Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Or the gap between NASCAR Camping World Truck Series frontrunner James Buescher and Ty Dillon, though that particular one is a tad more robust than the others.

In other words, with three races left in each national series season, zero championships are remotely close to being decided. And the typically close, fast and drama-packed action that usually unfurls at Texas should only ramp up the intensity as the NASCAR season comes to a close.


Johnson Wins, Nabs Chase Points Lead

If the above headline sounds familiar, there’s a reason: It’s been used in just about every single Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup since its inception in 2004.

True, Johnson has not held the points lead in each of the nine Chases, but with his win at Martinsville on Sunday, he has now won in all nine of them (though never this late into a postseason session). Sunday’s win at Martinsville was Johnson’s record 21st career win in the Chase, 10 more than second-best in the category (Tony Stewart).

More pressing, though, Johnson reclaimed the points lead from Brad Keselowski – a comfortable spot to reside with three races remaining.

In the eight previous Chases, the points leader with three races remaining has gone on to win the championship five times.

Keselowski Escapes Wild-Card Track, Another One On Deck
Keselowski lost the points lead, but there’s no need to fret just yet.

His deficit now stands at a scant two points, a miniscule figure for someone like Keselowski who gobbles up top-10 finishes by the bunch (he has six top 10s in the seven Chase races).

Plus, Keselowski need only look to recent history for comfort. Last season with three races to go, Tony Stewart trailed then-leader Carl Edwards by eight points.

But there’s a potential problem. Most circled Martinsville as Keselowski’s highest hurdle for capturing the championship. But maybe it should’ve been Texas.

In eight Texas starts, Keselowski has yet to score a top-10 finish. None of his eight Driver Ratings have eclipsed 90.0, and his best finish is 14th, in April of 2010. More glaring is the fact that of his eight Texas finishes, five were outside the top 20 – and he has yet to finish on the lead lap.

A Bowyer/Kahne Comeback Would Be Historic, But Not Impossible
Since the inception of the position-based points system in 1975, the largest deficit overcome with three races remaining was by Dale Earnhardt in 1990, when he caught Mark Martin to close out his fourth title.

Under the current points structure, 49 points roughly translates to 12 points. That means Clint Bowyer’s 26-point deficit and Kasey Kahne’s 29-point climb is daunting to say the least.

But is an historic comeback impossible? Of course not. No driver has been mathematically eliminated from championship contention – though a couple may be following Texas (any driver 97 points behind the leader after Texas will be officially eliminated).

Back to Bowyer and Kahne. Bowyer comes into this race with three top 10s in the last four Texas races, and boasts momentum at 1.5-mile tracks after capturing his first victory on an intermediate track at Charlotte. Kahne enters the weekend with two consecutive top 10s at Texas, along with a win there in 2006.

Chevrolet Closes In On History
Jimmie Johnson’s win at Martinsville broke an 11-race winless drought, and nudges the all-time winningest manufacturer nearer to a major milestone: 700 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories.

They now sit at the very edge of the milestone, at 699 wins.

The accolades don’t end there. Chevrolet has already clinched the Manufacturers’ Championship in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and NASCAR Nationwide Series, and can clinch the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ title this weekend at Texas. It would be the first manufacturer championship sweep since Chevrolet did it in 2005.

- NASCAR Media Services

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