By Peter Carcia
TheRacingExperts.com Lead Reporter
Well, at the minute that I’m writing this part of the blog, it’s been about 10 minutes after the checkered and I’m looking at the Yahoo Sports pics. Jeff and Jeff against each other after a wreck, Kyle Busch spins out, less people in the stands, no surprise there. Wait a minute, did I hear that correctly? Denny Hamlin won? Where’s Jimmie Johnson? Ninth?? Ladies and gents, we have a new point leader with 2 races to go!
So after many weeks of huddling off to the side, not worrying about position in a major aspect, Denny Hamlin now has a 33 point advantage on four time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson, while Kevin Harvick, although getting closer to Johnson in the points, fell back a little bit now 59 points behind. Now, we get to the last short track, if you want to be in the beating and banging aspect of it, of the year. As Phoenix International Raceway begins a hiatus of late races, it now has become home to one of the most astounding chase contention races since the 48 team began piling up trophies. Now, the final stretch looks like something from the New York City Marathon that was just held on Sunday. The two most noticeable teams are like the two biggest countries for long distance running. Hendrick Motorsports, like Kenya , the usual favorites. Joe Gibbs Racing, like Ethiopia , the team to watch, but doesn’t normally get the stuff to back it up. Will that metaphor hang on and have JGR and Denny Hamlin beat out the favored team? We’ll find out in two weeks, but this Sunday, half of the bill will be decided.
1.) Denny Hamlin (6325 / Lead) Hamlin had the perfect set up for a champion, and even though I was too much of a NASCAR novice to realize that (it’s true, I started watching just last year), it worked out just as planned. Before we get to the track where he has great success, he needs to fight through the last big exclamation of the year. He’s battled with the 48 and lost many times here, with top 10 finishes in 4 of the last 5 races, but a win or at least second is what he needs in order to keep the momentum on his side. Remember, we have never seen a time when Jimmie Johnson has truly needed to race this hard this late, so it is crucial that everyone is on the same page. You do not want to have to deal with what happened last spring at a time like this. One thing that I think could really help is asking for assistance from the man people love to hate: his teammate Kyle Busch. At 339 points behind the lead, Kyle is ultimately out of contention. It is not complete disaster however to have a driver in this type as a teammate. Now, there have been a few disagreements between the two this year, specifically the All-Star race, but Busch is a good companion to block, disrupt, and take the focus elsewhere from the 48, a driver that he has shown to hate in the past few weeks. Nevertheless, it will be all up to Hamlin when the final restart goes in the air.
- Finished 1st at Texas
- If Johnson is first, then he must finish 2nd to keep lead
- 11.60 Career Average @ Phoenix (5th among active drivers)
- Finishes since 2008 (9.40 average; 4th among active drivers)
· Spring 2008: 3rd
· Spring 2009: 6th
· Spring 2010: 30th
· Fall 2008: 5th
· Fall 2009: 3rd
2.) Jimmie Johnson (6292 / -33) Jimmie Johnson was dethroned a little too late in the chase for his liking. After unexpectedly starting 17th, he took the ninth position and lost about 50 points on Hamlin. You would think it was crazy since it was only nine positions, but hey, some fans like it when there’s a big deficit between first and the rest of the field; this simply the prime example. Winning, however, is just the thing Jimmie needs to do to make that new leader a fluke, and that is something Johnson knows all too well in the fall races in the desert. He is the three-time-and-defending winner of the fall event, as well as winning 3 of the last five races. For the last two years, Texas has been the blemish in Johnson’s final stretch of the chase, now we go to the final place on the circuit where it is almost definite smooth sailing.
- Finished 9th at Texas
- Must finish 12 spots better than Hamlin to secure lead
- 4.93 Career Average @ Phoenix (1st among active drivers)
- Finishes since 2008 (2.00 average; 1st among active drivers)
· Spring 2008: 1st
· Spring 2009: 4th
· Spring 2010: 3rd
· Fall 2008: 1st
· Fall 2009: 1st
3.) Kevin Harvick (6266 / -59) Harvick looked like he really had a chance to take away the point lead from Jimmie Johnson. There was only one problem; he failed to account for Denny Hamlin sandwiched between the two. Now, he is in the same situation he was in when the chase began. Harvick has shown strengths, but he has yet to receive an eye-popping finish when the restrictor plates are left in the hauler. Kevin is in a very good place to get the lead still, but making it up without winning is almost unheard of. Coming into this race, Harvick has not made a top ten in 3 races in Phoenix . It is important that he keeps an eye on where Johnson and Hamlin are, and trade in your cards from there. You can raise the bids, but do not go all in.
- Finished 6th at Texas
- Must finish 10 spots better than Johnson and 21 spots better than Hamlin to take point lead
- 15.00 Career Average @ Phoenix (13th among active drivers)
- Finishes since 2008 (18.60 average; 20th among active drivers)
· Spring 2008: 19th
· Spring 2009: 30th
· Spring 2010: 13th
· Fall 2008: 7th
· Fall 2009: 24th
Next week, the season will come to a thrilling end as the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway shows the beginning of the off-season, and the crowning of a champion. Until we find out the storyline to that race, I’ll see you on the track.