The Hottest NASCAR Storylines Heading into Phoenix
With Texas now in the rearview, NASCAR roars into the Phoenix International Raceway for the penultimate weekend of the 2013 season. While things look to be a lock in the Camping World Truck Series, the championship battle is heating up in both the Nationwide Series and the Sprint Cup Series.
While a milestone victory was achieved during the weekend, we saw championship contenders falter and dominant teams continue their winning ways. But with two races to go, will they be able to make it through Phoenix with their heads held high?
Here's a look at the hottest storylines heading into Phoenix.
Gordon Slips from Chase Contention
Remember back in the day when Texas just wouldn't give Jeff Gordon a break? In the inaugural event, he started second but finished 30th compliments of a crash. Two years later, he knocked himself silly in the fourth turn and finished last, a fate he repeated in 2008. It wasn't until his fifth start at Texas in 2001 that he finally posted a strong finish of fifth, and he has posted several strong runs since then, including a win in 2009.
It looks like those old days are back.
Sunday marked the umpteenth time that Gordon has left TMS with a crumpled-up No. 24, thanks to an early wreck that knocked him to a 38th-place finish (matching his April result this year). It couldn't have come at a worse time, considering that Gordon was coming off a win at Martinsville and still seemed to have a shot at the title.
Gordon has no shot at the Sprint Cup title, but he could still try to salvage what has otherwise been a tremendous Chase effort by his team with a strong showing at Phoenix, where he has won twice (2007, 2011).
Dillon Achieves Historic Win for Grandfather's Team
Friday night marked a big night for Richard Childress Racing and the legion of Childress fans all over as Ty Dillon brought his No. 3 Chevy to Victory Lane for the third time in his career. What made this win so special was that it was the 100th win in NASCAR for the No. 3.
What also makes the win so special was that it was a week removed from the fracas between Dillon and fellow RCR diver Kevin Harvick. Harvick had accused both Dillon and his brother Austin of being given preferential treatment and having everything handed to them.
As if in response, Dillon came to Texas and dominated by leading 130 of 147 laps on his way to the win. He currently sits third in points, but if he wants to overtake second-place James Buescher, he's going to have to do better at Phoenix than the 15th-place finish he scored a year ago.
Truex to Join Furniture Row Racing in 2014
Following his continuing bad luck after learning his No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing team would be shut down effectively shutting him out of a ride for the 2014 season, Martin Truex Jr.'s fortunes seemed to change after announcing that he has signed with the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevy for the next three years.
Truex, who sits 16th in points, was one of those affected by the scandal that rocked MWR following the September Richmond race, where accusations flew that MWR was deliberately manipulating the race to put Truex among the Chase field.
However, by signing with the No. 78 team, Truex could be a Chase contender nonetheless, as the team has been having its strongest season to date with driver Kurt Busch, who managed to put the single-car team in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
With the pressure off his shoulders for 2014, we will see how he fares at Phoenix, where in 15 starts he has one top-five and five top-10s.
Penske Dominance Continues
In what has become a typical sight in the Nationwide Series this season, the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford scored a win Saturday at Texas with 2010 Nationwide champion Brad Keselowski behind the wheel. The victory was Keseloski's sixth of the season and the No. 22's 12th win this year (with four different drivers).
The weekend was fruitful for the Penske Nationwide effort, as fellow Nationwide driver Sam Hornish Jr. trimmed points leader Austin Dillon's lead to six points with two races left, while in the owner's standings the No. 22 retook the lead by 26 points over the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Toyota.
Keselowski will be in the car again for the Service Master 200 at Phoenix, looking for win No. 13 for the No. 22 Ford this year. A win would push the team further toward the owner's championship.
Johnson Takes Win, Extends Points Lead
With two races to go, it is looking like Matt Kenseth is facing an uphill battle trying to overcome Jimmie Johnson for the points lead, as Johnson took a seven-point lead over Kenseth with his win at Texas on Sunday.
The win was Johnson's third at Texas Motor Speedway, following triumphs at the speedway in 2007 and 2011. With the win on Sunday, Johnson broke the tie for the points lead over Kenseth and looks to further extend his lead at Phoenix, where he has four wins, 13 top-fives and 16 top-10s in 20 starts.
Last year, a crash all but killed his chances at the 2012 Sprint Cup Championship, effectively paving the way for Brad Keselowski's title run. Considering Johnson has completed 99.4 percent of the laps he has run at Phoenix, Kenseth may need Johnson to have a problem come Sunday.
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