Avondale, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - The battle between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship resumes on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
With just two races to go, Johnson's lead over Kenseth is seven points, which is the same point margin Johnson had over Brad Keselowski one year ago when the Sprint Cup Series came to Phoenix for the penultimate race.
Johnson reclaimed the top spot in the Chase standings with a win last weekend at Texas. Kenseth and Johnson had been tied in points. But Kenseth is now faced with his largest points deficit in the Chase following a fourth-place run there.
"I'm still confident," Kenseth said. "I wish I was seven points ahead, but at the end of the day, it's in our hands. If you win both of the last two races and the math works out to where you still win it, then it's still in our hands. I have the greatest race team out there, and we're going to work as hard as we can and try to get the best finishes we can and see where it ends up."
In last year's Chase race at Phoenix, Johnson's bid for his sixth Sprint Cup championship took a huge hit when he blew a tire and made contact with the wall, which led to a 32nd-place finish. He finished 36th the following week at Homestead, as Keselowski went on to claim his first title in the series.
"We need to race well at Phoenix," Johnson said. "We finished second there in the spring, so we feel strong about our setup and the performance we should have there. But that doesn't guarantee us anything. We need to go out and have a good, strong, clean weekend."
The series most recently competed at Phoenix the first weekend in March. Carl Edwards ended a two-year, 70-race winless streak after he held off Johnson during a green-white-checkered finish.
Johnson holds the record for most wins at Phoenix with four, including three in a row from 2007-08. His most recent victory here came in the fall of 2009. Kenseth has one win at this track, which occurred 11 years ago.
Kenseth had finished outside the top-10 in both races at Phoenix during the 2011 and '12 seasons when he drove for Roush Fenway Racing. He finished seventh in this year's spring race here, which came in just his second start with Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth leads the series with seven wins this season. His most recent victory came in September at New Hampshire, which is a flat one-mile track very similar to Phoenix.
"We had a really great car (at Phoenix) in the spring," Kenseth said. "We were really good at Loudon (N.H.) and were really good at Martinsville (two weeks ago), so I'm looking forward to getting there. I hope we can run up front and have a car to win."
The points leader entering the second-to-last race in the Chase at Phoenix won the series championship in six straight seasons (2004-09). But that hasn't been the case in the past three years. Denny Hamlin (2010), Edwards (2011) and Johnson (2012) took leads to Phoenix but lost the title.
Homestead, a 1.5-mile racetrack, is scheduled for Nov. 17.
"There's still a lot of racing left, and the two tracks that remain on the schedule are very challenging tracks," Johnson said.
Kevin Harvick is currently third in points (-40), followed by Kyle Busch (-52), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-62), Jeff Gordon (-69) and Clint Bowyer (-69).
Eighth through 13th are: Greg Biffle (-73), Joey Logano (-91), Kurt Busch (-96), Edwards (-116), Ryan Newman (-118) and Kasey Kahne (-133).
Harvick won at Phoenix one year ago in a race that featured one of the most memorable brawls in NASCAR history.
Gordon and Bowyer, who were both in last year's Chase field, made contact while battling for position in the closing laps. Gordon then had a tire go down, which caused him to crash into the wall. He patiently waited for Bowyer to come around the track before he intentionally wrecked him. Aric Almirola and Logano were involved in that accident as well.
After Gordon drove back to the garage area and climbed out of his damaged car, several crew members from Bowyer's team swooped on the four-time Cup champion and attacked him. Gordon's crew quickly intervened, resulting in a huge fight.
Gordon avoided being suspended for the season-finale at Homestead, which he won, but NASCAR did penalize him with a fine of $100,000 and a loss of 25 points for his altercation with Bowyer.
After finishing 38th at Texas, Gordon dropped from third to sixth in points, ending his hopes of winning the title. Gordon suffered a flat tire and made contact with the wall in the early going. He was coming off his first win of the season at Martinsville.
"Certainly disappointing to have the race we just had in Texas," Gordon said. "But the confidence is still high. The car was fantastic again this past weekend. It felt like we were going to have a great weekend. We take that confidence in the cars that we've been bringing to the racetrack into Phoenix this weekend, on to Homestead. Finish out the season the best we can and hopefully move up in points again."
Jeff Burton, in his last season with Richard Childress Racing, is expected to make his 1,000th career NASCAR national series start on Sunday at Phoenix. Burton will become just the sixth driver to reach that milestone, joining Richard Petty (1,185), Mark Martin (1,141), Joe Nemechek (1,073), Michael Waltrip (1,062) and Terry Labonte (1,013).
Burton's start breakdown per series is 689 in Sprint Cup, 306 Nationwide and four Camping World Truck. His first NASCAR national series start came in a Nationwide race at Martinsville in 1988.
Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the AdvoCare 500.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Nov. 10. Race: AdvoCare 500. Site: Phoenix International Raceway. Track: 1-mile oval. Start time: 3:00 p.m. ET. Laps: 312. Miles: 312. 2012 Winner: Kevin Harvick. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.