Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jimmie Johnson is in control with three
races remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
After winning last Sunday's 500-lap race at Martinsville, Johnson took a two-
point lead over Brad Keselowski, who finished sixth. Keselowski held a seven-
point advantage over Johnson heading into Martinsville.
Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway is round eight in the 10-race Chase.
Phoenix (Nov. 11) and Homestead (Nov. 18) follow Texas.
Even though Johnson's win at Martinsville came later than any of his other
first Chase wins during a season, the five-time Sprint Cup champion is the
only driver to score a victory in each of the nine Chases. NASCAR began its
playoff format for its premier series in 2004.
Can Johnson continue his winning momentum and increase his points lead over
Keselowski at Texas?
"Texas is a total opposite from a setup standpoint than what we had (at
Martinsville), demands on the car, the way you drive," Johnson said. "We'll
take whatever mental momentum and confidence that (Martinsville) brought us,
but we have to go to work again this week, and it's a whole new battle.
"We'll do more of the same. We have to be the best to be the champions. I
think we're showing we're in form and ready to do that."
Johnson, who drives the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, has one win and
13 top-10 finishes in 18 races at Texas. His average finish at this 1.5-mile
racetrack is 9.7.
"I see a good opportunity, and I know we'll have a fast race car," he said.
"Our mile and a half stuff has been very strong. We finished second (at Texas)
in the spring. So from a performance standpoint, we're ready to show up there
Johnson's win at Texas came in Nov. 2007. It was his third consecutive victory
during the '07 Chase. He went on to win the following week at Phoenix to
extend his streak.
The last time Johnson won back-to-back point races was in June 2010 -- Sonoma
(Calif.) and New Hampshire.
By no means is Keselowski concerned about losing the points lead with three
races to go. This year, Keselowski and his No. 2 Penske Racing team have found
success at tracks where it had normally eluded them. He has matched or
bettered his previous finish at 15 different tracks.
"When you have a team like we have, it's easy to stay calm in the face of
adversity," Keselowski said. "We all have each other's back. We like our role
is in this Chase. While we aren't being overlooked by any means, there are
many who think that we are still too young of a team to seriously challenge
(Johnson's) team. We like it that way. In reality, we are a very good race
team that is primed to take this fight right down to the last lap at
Keselowski has yet to post a top-10 finish in eight races at Texas, with his
best run there 14th, which came in April 2010. His worst finish there of 36th
came earlier this year.
"I'm very confident in our abilities at Texas this weekend," he said. "The
mile-and-a-half tracks have been really good to us this year. We had an
awesome car in April at Texas, probably the best car I've ever had there. But
fuel issues kept us from challenging for the win. This weekend, I'm expecting
to challenge for the win."
Clint Bowyer is 26 points behind Johnson, while Johnson's teammate, Kasey
Kahne, trails by 29. Bowyer won at Charlotte and then finished sixth at Kansas
before placing fifth at Martinsville.
"All I can do is worry about running well and putting ourselves in position to
win races every week," Bowyer said. "Bad luck is not something I can really
wish upon the other guys in front of us or even worry about. We are going to
need some help from the other guys to stay in this deal."
Kahne moved from fifth to fourth in the Chase rankings after his third-place
run at Martinsville. He has one win at Texas, which came in April 2006.
"I still feel like I have a chance because of the way the points are," Kahne
said. "We definitely still have a shot, but we're a ways out. I wish we were
within 20 or 15 (points). I think we'd be a lot more legit at that point."
Fifth through 12th in Chase points right now are: Denny Hamlin (-49), Jeff
Gordon (-54), Martin Truex Jr. (-63), Matt Kenseth (-65), Greg Biffle (-69),
Tony Stewart (-71), Kevin Harvick (-88) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-140).
Stewart won at Texas one year ago, and Biffle took the checkered flag there
earlier this season.
No member in the Chase field has been mathematically eliminated from the
championship yet, but any driver who is 97 points or more out of the lead
following Texas will be out of title contention.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the AAA Texas 500.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Nov. 4. Race: AAA Texas 500. Site:
Texas Motor Speedway. Track: 1.5-mile oval. Start time: 3:00 p.m.(ET). Laps:
334. Miles: 501. 2011 Winner: Tony Stewart. Television: ESPN. Radio:
Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.
The Sports Network