With just two races to go in the NASCAR Sprint season, Jimmie Johnson takes a seven-point lead over Matt Kenseth to Phoenix International Speedway for Sunday's AdvoCare 500.
Johnson let the field know he has no intention of giving anyone a chance to gain ground on him by driving the No. 48 to the pole for Sunday's race.
Kenseth, who will start in the No. 20 from 14th on Sunday, has his work cut out for him.
However, starting 13 spots behind Johnson is not a big obstacle in comparison to what Kenseth has been pulling off in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing.
With Kevin Harvick third in the Chase, the race for the championship is essentially a two-man battle at this point.
Of course, Harvick is the event's defending champion, so it's not like he is without hope. Still, with only 48 points available in a race, simply defending his championship won't be enough for Harvick to get back into the championship race.
Not surprisingly, the November weather in Phoenix is expected to be fairly ideal, and it should be an entertaining and intense afternoon of racing.
Location: Phoenix International Speedway, Avondale, Arizona
Start Time: 3:15 p.m. ET
TV Coverage: ESPN
|Phoenix 500 Lineup|
|1||Jimmie Johnson||Chevrolet||139.222 mph|
|2||Denny Hamlin||Toyota||139.023 mph|
|3||Joey Logano||Ford||138.942 mph|
|4||Kyle Busch||Toyota||138.851 mph|
|5||Jeff Gordon||Chevrolet||138.627 mph|
|6||Clint Bowyer||Toyota||138.595 mph|
|7||Kasey Kahne||Chevrolet||138.520 mph|
|8||Kurt Busch||Chevrolet||138.446 mph|
|9||Kevin Harvick||Chevrolet||138.297 mph|
|10||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||138.069 mph|
|11||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||138.053 mph|
|12||Brad Keselowski||Ford||137.968 mph|
|13||Paul Menard||Chevrolet||137.736 mph|
|14||Matt Kenseth||Toyota||137.704 mph|
|15||Jeff Burton||Chevrolet||137.652 mph|
|16||Mark Martin||Chevrolet||137.410 mph|
|17||Ryan Newman||Chevrolet||137.237 mph|
|18||Greg Biffle||Ford||137.195 mph|
|19||Juan Pablo Montoya||Chevrolet||137.153 mph|
|20||Marcos Ambrose||Ford||136.971 mph|
|21||Aric Almirola||Ford||136.945 mph|
|22||Elliott Sadler||Toyota||136.690 mph|
|23||Carl Edwards||Ford||136.679 mph|
|24||Reed Sorenson||Ford||136.096 mph|
|25||Justin Allgaier||Chevrolet||136.008 mph|
|26||Bobby Labonte||Toyota||135.962 mph|
|27||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||135.947 mph|
|28||Josh Wise||Ford||135.793 mph|
|29||Cole Whitt||Toyota||135.716 mph|
|30||Casey Mears||Ford||135.578 mph|
|31||Travis Kvapil||Toyota||135.399 mph|
|32||Danica Patrick||Chevrolet||135.379 mph|
|33||David Gilliland||Ford||135.323 mph|
|34||David Ragan||Ford||135.277 mph|
|35||J.J. Yeley||Chevrolet||135.110 mph|
|36||Jamie McMurray||Chevrolet||134.862 mph|
|37||David Reutimann||Toyota||134.645 mph|
|38||Timmy Hill||Ford||134.529 mph|
|39||Michael McDowell||Ford||134.368 mph|
|40||Landon Cassill||Chevrolet||133.919 mph|
|41||Tony Raines||Chevrolet||132.057 mph|
|42||Dave Blaney||Chevrolet||131.579 mph|
|43||Joe Nemechek||Toyota||130.676 mph|
|Chase Standings Ahead of Phoenix|
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2280||-62|
Drivers to Watch
Johnson was one of the last drivers to take to the track for qualifying, and all he and his Hendrick team were able to do was set the track record.
Johnson has a strong car and the points lead, and there are just two races left. Things are looking good for Johnson to land a sixth championship.
However, the setting wasn't all that different a year ago when Johnson took a seven-point lead into Phoenix over eventual champ Brad Keselowski. Johnson and the No. 48 team slogged through some uncharacteristic struggles and wound up finishing 32nd after a blown tire forced him into the wall.
Johnson has a strong racing history in Phoenix. However, this track was reconfigured in 2011, and since then, Johnson's average finish is 13th.
Look for Johnson to improve that average on Sunday.
The difference in qualifying speeds between Kenseth and Johnson is not as alarming as it appears at first glance.
Kenseth was one of the first cars to go out, and Johnson was one of the last. Temperatures were dropping as the session went along and the cars were picking up speed in the cooler conditions.
However, what might be of slightly bigger concern is that this is, in terms of average finish, one of Kenseth's five worst venues. He hasn't had a top-five finish in his last 11 trips to Phoenix.
That said, Kenseth has finished in the top 10 in seven of his last nine races. I would expect him to snap his streak of poor finishes in Phoenix this week.
If Harvick is going to get back into the championship race, he couldn't have asked for a better venue.
For starters, Turn 4 is ripe for the kinds of crashes that could ruin the day for Kenseth or Johnson. Moreover, while Johnson and Kenseth have had some relative struggles here as of late, Harvick is right at home.
As I mentioned, he is the defending champion and also a three-time winner here.
While I doubt Kenseth and Johnson will give Harvick the opportunity to climb back into the points race, I expect Harvick to be a serious factor in this race.