After finishing three spots ahead of Jimmie Johnson in second place on Sunday at the Martinsville 500, Matt Kenseth moved into a tie for first in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with the five-time champ.
Jeff Gordon surged to the checkered after passing Kenseth with 21 laps to go. This helped move him into third in the standings, and close the gap on the top two drivers. Still, he is 27 points back with three races to go.
He will need at least a slight slip from the two front runners if he is going to win a fifth championship.
Have a look at the complete standings.
|7||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||8||2238||-56|
With the way Kenseth and Johnson are running, chances are they won't falter enough to allow anyone else a shot at the championship.
So, I'll hone in on Johnson's and Kenseth's chances, but first, here are the remaining three stops on the Sprint schedule:
|Nov. 3||NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Martinsville||Texas Motor Speedway|
|Nov. 10||NSCS at Phoenix||Phoenix International Raceway|
|Nov. 17||Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami||Homestead-Miami Speedway|
Kenseth's ability to pick up ground on Johnson at Martinsville was huge. Johnson has been excellent at the Paperclip and he's won there eight times in his career. Meanwhile, Kenseth has never won at the track, and he's struggled.
However, Kenseth is a different driver this season with Joe Gibbs Racing, and he proved that at Martinsville. This race was a statement to Johnson that Kenseth is serious about claiming his first title.
If Johnson is getting nervous about Kenseth's presence, however, he isn't showing it. Here is a quote from Johnson, provided by NBC's Chris Estrada, following the race:
It’s been a great battle with the 20 car [Kenseth] and the 24 [Gordon] has really shown that he wants to be a part of this deal. There’s no other way I’d want to go racing for a championship, and it’s exactly what the fans want to see.
To give fans what they want to see, Johnson will have to finish much stronger than last year.
Who will win the Chase?
It was last season that the No. 48 won at Texas to take the points lead and it looked like Johnson would claim his sixth championship.
However, uncharacteristically struggling with car issues, he slumped in the last two races with a 32nd and 36th.
Meanwhile, Kenseth knows all too well that this not how things typically go for Johnson. Under the old points system in 2006, Kenseth trailed Johnson by 17 points heading into Phoenix. Johnson finished second and Kenseth 13th to effectively end the championship.
I expect a much stronger finish from Kenseth this time around, and another entertaining finish to the Chase.