With just two races to go, the battle between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski for the Sprint Cup Series championship continues this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. The Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series will also be at Phoenix.
Sprint Cup Series
AdvoCare 500 - Phoenix International Raceway - Avondale, Ariz.
Jimmie Johnson could take a big step forward in winning his sixth Sprint Cup Series title this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway.
Johnson enters the penultimate race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with a seven-point lead over Brad Keselowski. Third-place Clint Bowyer is a distant 36 points behind.
Just two drivers in the Chase -- Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- have been mathematically eliminated from championship contention. Any driver who is 49 points or more behind the leader after Phoenix will be out of the title hunt.
It is possible but very unlikely that Johnson could clinch the Sprint Cup title at Phoenix. Johnson must out-point Keselowski by 41 if he wins the race and 42 if he doesn't win. He must also net an additional 12 points on Bowyer.
Johnson has won the last two races -- Martinsville and Texas. He won the pole position and led the most laps in each of those events as well. If Johnson led the most laps and won at Phoenix, he would clinch the title if Keselowski finished 37th or worse and Bowyer eighth or worse, with neither challenger scoring a bonus point for leading a lap. Keselowski's worst finish this season is 36th, which came in April at Texas.
After winning Martinsville, Johnson reclaimed the lead in the Chase standings, as he held only a two-point advantage over Keselowski. Johnson added five more points to his lead after a hard-fought battle with Keselowski at Texas.
"There is not going to be any breathing easy until the end," Johnson said. "I was two points, and now we've got seven. But there is a lot of racing left."
Johnson holds the record for most wins at Phoenix with four, including three in the Chase. His most recent victory there came in Nov. 2009, a race which he led 238 of 312 laps. Johnson also holds the record for most laps led at this one-mile oval with 931. He has an average finish of 5.3 in his 18 races there.
When the series most recently competed at Phoenix in March, Keselowski scored his first top-10 finish there with a fifth-place run. Keselowski's average finish in six races at this track is 22.17. He's led just a total of seven laps there -- four in last year's fall race and three in this year's spring event.
"I look at Phoenix, and I think we had a great run in the spring, finishing fifth," Keselowski said. "I felt like that was when we weren't even quite as strong as we are now as a team. Now that we're stronger, I feel like it's realistic for us to go to the next two races and win, and that's what we're going to try and do. That's the goal I have."
In each of the last two years, the driver ranked second in Chase points entering the second-to-last race overtook the leader in the season-finale at Homestead. In 2010, Johnson trailed Denny Hamlin in points heading into Phoenix but went on to win his record-extending fifth consecutive series championship. Tony Stewart caught Carl Edwards during the last two races in last year's Chase, beating Edwards for the title in a points tiebreaker.
"I'd say it's a heads-up match going into Phoenix and probably the same going into Homestead," Keselowski said after his second-place finish last Sunday at Texas. "We just have to win the heads-up matches."
Sunday's race will be the third time the series runs at this track since it was repaved and reconfigured in mid-2011. When the series competed at Phoenix one year ago, there were a lot of unknowns heading into the event. Since then, drivers have become quite familiar with the track's new surface.
"The track has had some time to age, and I hope it's lost some grip, so we will definitely move out," Johnson said. "They spent a lot of time and effort to try to create extra lanes of racing through their modeling. I hope they're right. The first time there, it was pretty narrow, and I hope that, as it ages, we can get a wider racetrack and really put on a good show."
Kasey Kahne won at Phoenix one year ago, and Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag there earlier this year.
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the AdvoCare 500. Danica Patrick is scheduled to make her 10th and final Sprint Cup start of the season at Phoenix.
Great Clips 200 - Phoenix International Raceway - Avondale, Ariz.
With just two races to go, Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are in a deadlock in their battle for the Nationwide Series championship. Both drivers are tied in points with 1,170 each.
Stenhouse's fourth-place finish compared to an 11th-place run for Sadler in last Saturday's race at Texas allowed Stenhouse to pull even with his championship rival. He trailed Sadler by six points before Texas.
Stenhouse, the defending Nationwide champion, is the points leader by virtue of his six wins for the season. Sadler has four victories.
The series now heads to Phoenix International Raceway before the season wraps up next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Sadler won the most recent Nationwide race at Phoenix in March. It was his first win in the series since Oct. 1998. He had been without a victory in his last 91 starts.
When the series competed at Phoenix in Nov. 2011, Sadler trailed Stenhouse by 17 points, but Sadler was caught up in a multi-car wreck late in the race, which essentially ended his chances of winning the championship. Stenhouse went on to clinch the title the following week at Homestead by a 45-point margin of victory.
"With two races left in the season, there is still a lot to be decided with this championship," Sadler said. "This time last year, we saw our season basically end after being wrecked toward the end of the race. It was a bit of redemption being able to come back and win at Phoenix earlier this season, and I know that we are looking to do the same thing this weekend."
Prior to Texas, Sadler had led in the point standings for four consecutive races. But Stenhouse has managed to take over the top spot after battling back from adversity in the past two races.
Last month, Stenhouse won at Kansas after he bounced back from an accident and a two-lap deficit midway through the race. He dealt with an ill-handling car and nearly fell one lap behind in the early going at Texas but rebounded later in the event for a top-five finish.
"We have made gains on it the last two weeks to where we are tied (in points) now," Stenhouse said. "I guess all we have to do is tie. Last year, a tie won it with the most wins, and we have that right now. I feel good about where we are."
Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards ended last year's Sprint Cup Series season in a points tie, with Stewart clinching the championship due to his five wins.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Great Clips 200. Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are those Sprint Cup regulars competing in this event. Brian Vickers, a part-time Cup competitor, will make his Nationwide debut with Joe Gibbs Racing, driving the No. 20 Toyota. Vickers will compete in the series full-time for JGR next year.
Camping World Truck Series
Lucas Oil 150 - Phoenix International Raceway - Avondale, Ariz.
Points leader James Buescher is looking forward to competing in a Camping World Truck Series race at Phoenix International Raceway for the first time in two years.
Buescher enters the next-to-final race of the season with a 15-point lead over rookie Ty Dillon. Last week, Dillon finished fifth at Texas and shaved six points off of Buescher's advantage.
After leading 31 laps in the early going at Texas, Buescher got hit from behind by Matt Crafton and then bumped into the back of Nelson Piquet Jr. during a restart. He then experienced a vibration, which caused him to fade in the field and therefore resulted in an 11th-place finish.
"Last (race) there we had a rough weekend, but this team has put that weekend behind us," Buescher said. "I feel that all teams are on an even playing field heading into this weekend, with the track going through a reconfiguration and resurface since the last time we raced here. To better prepare myself for this weekend, I've been watching a lot of film of previous races."
The Truck Series has not raced at Phoenix since February 25, 2011. It was scheduled as the second event of the season that year, following Daytona. Buescher failed to qualify at Phoenix, but after a remarkable turnaround during the season, he came up 29 points short of the championship, which was won by Austin Dillon, who is Ty's older brother. Austin is now a rookie in the Nationwide Series.
Buescher has competed in two previous truck races at Phoenix, finishing 23rd (2009) and 11th (2010). Dillon will make his first truck start there on Friday.
"I'm confident we'll have a solid finish at Phoenix," Dillon said. "I've raced there in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West car before and ran well. We'll have all the notes from the last two seasons when my brother ran there, so I feel good about this weekend."
Timothy Peters is currently 25 points behind Buescher, while Parker Kligerman trails by 27. Joey Coulter (-43), Matt Crafton (-47) and Nelson Piquet Jr. (-81) are still mathematically eligible for the title.
It is possible that Buescher could clinch the championship at Phoenix. He would have to leave there with at least a 48-point lead over the second-place driver.
Thirty-eight teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Lucas Oil 150.