PIR hosts the Kobalt Tools 500 on Sunday, and Hamlin comes in red hot, having rallied to win the AAA Texas 500 and taken a 33-point lead over the four-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
History would suggest that Hamlin is the prohibitive favorite to capture his first Sprint Cup title this year: The last driver to lead the Sprint Cup points with two races left in the season and not go on to win the championship was Bill Elliott, who coughed up a lead of 70 points over Davey Allison and 85 over the late Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
That said, PIR is arguably Johnson’s best track, a place where his average finish is 4.9 to Hamlin’s 11.6. If each driver has an average day at Phoenix and leads the same number of laps, Johnson would make up 28 points out of his 33-point deficit. Obviously, it likely won’t play out that neatly, but the point is Johnson will have a good chance to make up ground this weekend.
Statistically, here’s how the 12 Chase racers match up with eight of 10 races in the books:
1. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota2010 RundownEight wins, 14 top fives, 18 top 10s; two polesAverage finish of 12.9Led 19 races for 994 lapsPIR Outlook:Five top fives, six top 10s; one poleAverage finish of 11.6 in 10 races
2. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet2010 RundownSix wins, 15 top fives, 21 top 10s; two polesAverage finish of 12.7Led 23 races for 1,314 lapsPIR Outlook:Four wins, nine top fives, 12 top 10s; one poleAverage finish of 4.9 in 14 races
3. Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet2010 RundownThree wins, 15 top fives, 24 top 10sAverage finish of 8.9Led 16 races for 357 lapsPIR Outlook:Two wins, three top fives, six top 10sAverage finish of 15.0 in 15 races
4. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford2010 RundownSeven top fives, 17 top 10s; two polesAverage finish of 12.4Led 11 races for 144 lapsPIR Outlook:Four top fives, eight top 10s; one poleAverage finish of 12.8 in 12 races
5. Matt Kenseth, No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford2010 RundownSix top fives, 13 top 10sAverage finish of 13.1Led 11 races for 106 lapsPIR Outlook:One win, five top fives, seven top 10sAverage finish of 18.2 in 16 races
6. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet2010 Rundown11 top fives, 17 top 10s; one poleAverage finish of 12.8Led 20 races for 919 lapsPIR Outlook:One win, nine top fives, 17 top 10s; three polesAverage finish of 10.4 in 23 races
7. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota2010 RundownThree wins, 10 top fives, 18 top 10s; two polesAverage finish of 13.5Led 18 races for 1,265 lapsPIR Outlook:One win, one top five, seven top 10s; one poleAverage finish of 13.9 in 11 races
8. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet2010 RundownTwo wins, nine top fives, 16 top 10s; two polesAverage finish of 13.9Led 19 races for 536 lapsPIR Outlook:One win, seven top fives, nine top 10sAverage finish of 11.7 in 17 racesAverage Running Position of 11.0, fourth-best
9. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford 2010 RundownTwo wins, eight top fives, 17 top 10sAverage finish of 15.9Led 12 races for 543 lapsPIR Outlook:Three top fives, four top 10sAverage finish of 15.4 in 13 races
10 - Clint Bowyer, No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet2010 Rundown Two wins, seven top fives, 18 top 10sAverage finish of 14.3Led 15 races for 400 lapsPIR Outlook:Two top fives, four top 10sAverage finish of 14.9 in 10 races
11. Kurt Busch, No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge2010 Rundown Two wins, nine top fives, 16 top 10s; two polesAverage finish of 15.4Led 16 races for 822 lapsPIR Outlook:One win, four top fives, eight top 10sAverage finish of 13.5 in 15 races
12. Jeff Burton, No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet2010 Rundown Six top fives, 15 top 10sAverage finish of 14.5Led 16 races for 538 lapsPIR Outlook:Two wins, six top fives, 12 top 10sAverage finish of 11.4 in 22 races
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.