The NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship got tighter in Texas as race winner Jimmie Johnson nudged Matt Kenseth for the lead by a scant seven points.
Only 712 miles of racing remain before the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup is over.
A total of 96 points are up for grabs between the first lap at Phoenix International Raceway and the last lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway, so Johnson and Kenseth will be wary of points as they both reach for the prized trophy.
The next three in line with a chance to advance or overtake either of the two at the top are Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Harvick is closest at 40 points back. Busch has 52 points to overcome and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is worse off with 62 points in his way.
PIR in Avondale, Ariz. will host 500 miles of racing, the AdvoCare 500, Sunday, November 10. Homestead ends it all with 400 miles of the EcoBoost 400 during their Ford Championship Weekend on November 17.
The 1-mile D-shaped oval PIR track was reconfigured in 2011 with progressive 11-degree banking, and that has changed everything for teams. They literally can throw away all previous data because of the changes. Plus, modern track pavement has superior materials that won’t weather nearly as fast as tracks did in the past.
The 35th of 36 Sprint Cup races is sold out. Fans without a ticket for one of the 67,000 seats can pay a parking toll and make it up Rattlesnake Hill for great viewing overlooking Turn 4. Fans not in Arizona can tune in to ESPN at 3 p.m. ET for drop of the green flag.
Many say the championship is down to a battle between Johnson and Kenseth, but Harvick, Busch and Earnhardt are not mathematically eliminated. Crashes or equipment failure could change the lead dramatically.
Drivers know their chances. The top-five contenders had comments heading into the next 312 miles.
Johnson spoke out about Phoenix.
“It’s just a whole new race track,” Johnson said. “The track was so good to us for so long that I hated to see it reconfigured and repaved, but we just have to get on top of things and get right over there.”
Kenseth has liked his chances on short tracks.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to Phoenix, especially after our success at Loudon and Martinsville this season,” Kenseth said. “The short flat tracks have been good to us. I’m hoping that they continue to be as we look ahead to this weekend.”
Harvick shared his plans.
“You really have to have an understanding of the track,” Harvick said. “I feel like you have to play the strategy game; the track is still racy enough where you can make up time if your car is good, but you need to stay focused on strategy."
Busch hoped nature will help on the resurfaced track.
“I hope it aged a little bit so then we can all race a little bit better,” Busch said. “It’s been a little bit difficult to pass, it felt like, still, and getting into Turn 1 has been a little bit slick. I think that’s kind of always been the tradition at Phoenix.”
Earnhardt shared his needs.
“Winning a race would really lift the team’s spirits,” Earnhardt Jr. “You work too hard all season long not to get to Victory Lane. I know how much the guys want the win on the team, so that's what we're working for now. We've got two races to go.”
Whether fans have tickets to a seat or a spot on a hill side or a position in front on a TV screen, the racing at PIR is shaping up to be intense and eventful.
The roar between the green flag and checkered flag will show all.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com. Unless otherwise noted, information and all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official release materials provided by sanction and team representatives.