NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the AAA Texas 500, and with only three races left to run this season, including Sunday’s final 500-miler of the year, the top two drivers in the standings, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are tied for the points lead. And they’re relatively comfortably ahead of their closest challenger, Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon who is 27 points behind.
Clint Bowyer, who finished third at Martinsville to move to sixth in the standings, 55 points out of the lead, said on this week’s NASCAR teleconference that unless something dramatic happens, the two drivers at the top of the standings will decide the title among themselves.
“Unless (Kenseth and Johnson) hand one of those other guys a bone, there is no chance,” Bowyer said. “I think those two teams have elevated themselves to championship-caliber teams, and that is your race for the championship.”
Kenseth said that any driver within 48 points of the leader — the maximum that can be earned in one race — still has an outside chance at the title. That group now includes Gordon, Kevin Harvick (minus-28) and Kyle Busch (minus-36).
“I think if you’re within a race, anything can happen,” Kenseth said. “If you’re more than a race behind multiple drivers, I think that makes it tough.”
This weekend’s race could go a long way toward determining which of the top two will prevail in the end. Two of the final three races, this weekend at Texas and the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, are on 1.5-mile tracks. So far this season, Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing team has been strong on that size track, winning six with four of those by Kenseth, while Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team are winless on the 1.5-mile ovals.
Johnson, the defending winner of the AAA Texas 500, and his No. 48 team recently tested at Texas, and he said in his team’s weekly release that his past success there is a plus.
“It does bring confidence,” he said, adding that it’s no guarantee of success going forward. “In the race, there are plenty of opportunities to make mistakes and get in trouble, so you’ve got to be on your toes.
“In all honesty, (past success) makes the week leading up — Monday through Friday morning — much more enjoyable, but then the pressure starts up as if you haven’t run well there before. It kind of all goes out the window.”
Fans of Kenseth: Two of Kenseth’s former teammates at Roush Fenway Racing said this week that they’re pulling for him to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup this year.
Greg Biffle said he and Kenseth remain friends even though Kenseth moved to Joe Gibbs Racing at the start of the season, and he’s happy that Kenseth is enjoying success on the track this year.
“I would like to see Matt win it,” Biffle said. “He’s been a good guy over time. I think he deserves it. He’s worked hard, made a big decision to make a change. He’d been at Roush a long time, like me.”
Carl Edwards, who had a rocky relationship with Kenseth for part of the time they were together at Roush, also said he would like to see Kenseth prevail over Jimmie Johnson.
“We obviously didn’t get along really well at one point, but to me, he’s one of the guys I’m closest with in the garage,” Edwards said. “I really think a lot of Matt, and once I understood him and I assume he understood me a little better, I think that we were as good a teammates as I’ve ever had. I think he was a huge asset to our team.”
Edwards said he doesn’t believe Kenseth is doing anything really differently than what he’s done in the past, even though he’s won a career-high seven races this season.
“I don’t think he’s learned new tricks or has changed his driving style,” Edwards said. “I just think he appears to be applying the same work ethic and effort that he always has, and it’s just working better this year.”
Fine and suspension: Ty Dillon’s crew chief was fined and a crew member indefinitely suspended from NASCAR following the team’s involvement in an altercation during Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.
Crew chief Marcus Richmond was fined $10,000 and crew member Adam Brown was suspended after Brown threw a mallet at the truck driven by Harvick, which had been involved in a crash with Dillon.