Denny Hamlin Wins at Texas: Who Will Win NASCAR's Chase?
Denny Hamlin made his move on Sunday at Texas to take the lead in the Sprint Cup Chase, but will he be able to hold off four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson?
Don't count out Kevin Harvick yet either, there are just two races remaining, and the champion is still very much in doubt.
Which one of the three drivers still standing appears to have the best shot at the title this season?
Hamlin got a huge win on Sunday at Texas, and by visiting victory lane, he moved past Jimmie Johnson in the chase standings.
Hamlin now has a 33-point first-place lead over Johnson in the standings as the drivers head to Phoenix next week.
The No. 11 took the lead with just 29 laps remaining and had little trouble cruising to victory after that. Matt Kenseth did take the lead for a short time on the final restart, but Hamlin was able to move right back ahead for the win.
Hamlin struggled earlier this season at Phoenix, finishing 30th, and if that was to happen again this time around, it would be a colossal disappointment. Hamlin has been racing great as of late so a finish outside of the top 10 would be quite surprising at this point.
The Tampa, Florida native won at Homestead last year in the season's final race so he is undoubtedly the favorite to take home the hardware this season and end Johnson's four-year Championship win streak.
Johnson now has some work to do after a disappointing day at Texas that included a mid-race crew change and ninth place finish.
The No. 48 had trouble in the pits twice during the race which proved costly. Johnson's drive for a fifth consecutive Sprint Cup Championship has now been clouded, and he will need to finish strong in the last two races to have a shot at winning it this year.
Luckily for Johnson, he fared much better than Hamlin at Phoenix earlier this season, as he finished third, and he won the playoff race at the track last year.
Johnson followed that up with a fifth place finish at Homestead to end the season and regain the title; he will need to do that again this year to have a shot this year.
Johnson needs to put his Texas troubles behind him and get a win next weekend—something that is easier said than done.
Harvick is the only other driver that still has a chance to pass Hamlin and Johnson and bring home the championship this season, but he has the most work to do, and his chances are definitely lowest of the three drivers.
Harvick finished sixth at Texas, and his 59-point deficit is not insurmountable but will be tough to overcome. Harvick will need to win one of the next two races and finish well in the other, while receiving some help from Hamlin and Johnson to have a chance.
Hamlin turned his 14-point deficit into a 33-point lead with his win and Johnson's ninth place finish, so Harvick will need to do the same and hope that the other two drivers finish outside of the top 10 to get back in it.
Harvick finished 13th earlier this season at Phoenix, but it's now or never for the No. 29; he needs a win next weekend if he wants to knock off Johnson and Hamlin for his first career Sprint Cup title. Harvick will best his career-best fourth place Sprint Cup finish no matter what, but the championship is still within reach.