Wednesday, November 2, 2016

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Notes: 2016 AAA Texas 500

Jimmie Johnsons owns Texas.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Next Race: AAA Texas 500
The Place: Texas Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, Nov. 6
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 501 miles (334 laps)

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

#Se7en: A Jimmie Johnson Story
It includes Jimmie Johnson instead of Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, but for the next three weeks, NASCAR fans will be treated to another star-studded tale called #Se7en.

With his victory at Martinsville Speedway, Jimmie Johnson clinched the first berth in the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 20, 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) where he will attempt to tie NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty with a record seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

The win in the Round of 8 opener gives Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team a strategic advantage because it can focus strictly on building a car for Homestead – a place where Johnson has never won. He has placed runner-up at the South Florida track twice (2004 and 2010).

In the meantime, Johnson can help himself even more by winning the upcoming races – Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC) and the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (Sunday, Nov. 13, 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). By visiting Victory Lane in those events, Johnson can block automatic berths in the Championship 4 from two drivers on the outside looking in who have had success at Homestead in their careers – Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.

Harvick (7.2) and Edwards (9.5) claim the top-two all-time average finishes at Homestead. Harvick finished runner-up at the 1.5-mile track last year after winning the championship with a visit to Victory Lane there in 2014. In 15 starts at Homestead, Harvick boasts seven top fives and 13 top 10s. Edwards has won at Homestead twice (2008, 2010). In 12 starts there, he claims two wins, five top fives and seven top 10s.

Johnson is the favorite to visit Victory Lane in the Lone Star State. He has won five of the past eight races at TMS, including the last four fall races.

Johnson gave a coy answer when asked about his strategy for the next two races, saying, “Just the big takeaway for us over these next two weeks could be momentum. If we can run up front or win again, I mean, that's just huge momentum for the team. That's the big thing we have that could work for us going to Homestead.”

If Johnson wins his seventh championship his 543 starts would be less than Earnhardt’s 676 to achieve the feat and Petty’s 1,184.

Chase Grid Update
With the Round of 8 opener at Martinsville on the books, here’s how the Chase Grid looks heading into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway: Jimmie Johnson (clinched Championship 4 berth with win at Martinsville), Denny Hamlin (six points above Joey Logano on the cutoff line), Matt Kenseth (+6), Kyle Busch (+4), Joey Logano (-4), Kevin Harvick (-16), Kurt Busch (-18), Carl Edwards (-32).

Dream Of 4 Over For Joe Gibbs Racing
For the majority of the season, there was a realistic possibility Joe Gibbs Racing could get all four of its drivers into the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With Jimmie Johnson’s win at Martinsville, the feat is now impossible, but JGR could still get three competitors in.

Manning the second through fourth positions, JGR’s Denny Hamlin (second), Matt Kenseth (third) and Kyle Busch (fourth) occupy the final three Championship 4 spots via points heading into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. Carl Edwards, who wrecked at Martinsville, is 32 points below Busch on the cutoff line and essentially needs to win at Texas or Phoenix to make the Championship 4.

All four JGR drivers have strong resumes at Texas. Busch won the spring race at Texas and will try to become the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver to sweep a track this season. In 21 starts at the 1.5-mile oval, he boasts two wins, 10 top fives, 11 top 10s and an 11.9 average finish. He has finished no worse than fourth in his last four races in the Lone Star State, as well as in five out of his last six contests there. His Texas average running position (10.6) and driver rating (102.9) rank third-best among active drivers.

Kenseth claims the series-best average running position at Texas (9.2) and owns the second-best driver rating (104.9) and average finish there (8.3). In 27 starts at the 1.5-mile track, he has two wins, along with 13 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes.

Like Busch and Kenseth, Hamlin also has two Texas wins. In 21 starts in the Lone Star State, Hamlin has also registered five top fives and 10 top 10s. He has only logged one top-10 showing (a seventh-place performance in 2013) in his last 10 Texas starts.

Edwards leads JGR drivers with three wins at TMS. He also has seven top fives, 12 top 10s and an average finish of 14.2 there in 23 starts. His 97.6 Texas driver rating ranks fourth among active drivers.

Texas Spoilers
Being out of the Chase doesn’t preclude a driver from winning a race. Since the new Chase format was implemented in 2014, four of 27 races have been won by non-Chase-eligible drivers (Jimmie Johnson: Texas 2014, Texas 2015; Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Martinsville 2014, Phoenix 2015).

Four non-Chase drivers in Sunday’s race have won at Texas before: Greg Biffle (two victories), Tony Stewart (2), Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman.

Logano Looks For Second Championship 4 Appearance With Win At Texas
Joey Logano will attempt to capture his second career Championship 4 appearance with a win in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. His only victory at Texas came in the 2014 spring race. Overall, Logano also has six top fives and a 17.5 average finish at the 1.5-mile track.

The numbers don’t look great at first glance, but five of Logano’s six top-five Texas finishes have been registered in his last seven races there. The No. 22 Team Penske driver enters the Lone Star State coming off a string of consistent finishes. He has accumulated 10 top-10 finishes in the last 12 races dating back to Watkins Glen.

Harvick Going After First Texas Win
A 35-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner, Kevin Harvick has visited Victory Lane at every active track except for Sonoma, Kentucky, Pocono and Texas – the site of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.

Sitting 16 points below the cutoff line for entrance into the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harvick could use a win. He is the only driver who has made both Championship 4 races since the current Chase format was implemented in 2014.

Harvick has come close to notching his elusive Texas win with two runner-ups and a third-place showing in his last four races at the 1.5-mile track. Overall, he claims six top fives, 15 top 10s and a 12.2 average finish in 27 starts in the Lone Star State.

Fear not Harvick fans, if he fails to triumph this weekend, he has one more shot at automatically advancing to the championship four at Phoenix, where has won five of the last six races and finished second in the one he didn’t visit Victory Lane.

Harvick’s teammate Kurt Busch, who’s 20 points below the cutoff line for advancement to the Championship 4, could also use a win. In 27 Texas starts, he has one victory, three top fives and 15 top 10s. He finished ninth in this season’s spring race at the 1.5-mile track and seventh in last year’s fall contest.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, etc.

Texas Milestones - Hendrick Motorsports (8) can tie Roush Fenway Racing (9) for the most series wins at Texas with a win this weekend.

Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. are tied for the lead in series poles at Texas with two each, if any of the four drivers wins the pole they will take the sole track series lead in the category. A Truex pole would make him the second driver this season (along with Edwards) to earn a Coors Light Six Pack for six poles in a single season. If Truex wins the six pack, Coors Light will donate $25,000 to the charity of his choice.


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