Philadelphia, PA – Jimmie Johnson is in control with three races remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
After winning last Sunday's 500-lap race at Martinsville, Johnson took a two- point lead over Brad Keselowski, who finished sixth. Keselowski held a seven- point advantage over Johnson heading into Martinsville.
Sunday's race at Texas Motor Speedway is round eight in the 10-race Chase. Phoenix (Nov. 11) and Homestead (Nov. 18) follow Texas.
Even though Johnson's win at Martinsville came later than any of his other first Chase wins during a season, the five-time Sprint Cup champion is the only driver to score a victory in each of the nine Chases. NASCAR began its playoff format for its premier series in 2004.
Can Johnson continue his winning momentum and increase his points lead over Keselowski at Texas?
"Texas is a total opposite from a setup standpoint than what we had (at Martinsville), demands on the car, the way you drive," Johnson said. "We'll take whatever mental momentum and confidence that (Martinsville) brought us, but we have to go to work again this week, and it's a whole new battle.
"We'll do more of the same. We have to be the best to be the champions. I think we're showing we're in form and ready to do that."
Johnson, who drives the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, has one win and 13 top-10 finishes in 18 races at Texas. His average finish at this 1.5-mile racetrack is 9.7.
"I see a good opportunity, and I know we'll have a fast race car," he said. "Our mile and a half stuff has been very strong. We finished second (at Texas) in the spring. So from a performance standpoint, we're ready to show up there and race."
Johnson's win at Texas came in Nov. 2007. It was his third consecutive victory during the '07 Chase. He went on to win the following week at Phoenix to extend his streak.
The last time Johnson won back-to-back point races was in June 2010 -- Sonoma (Calif.) and New Hampshire.
By no means is Keselowski concerned about losing the points lead with three races to go. This year, Keselowski and his No. 2 Penske Racing team have found success at tracks where it had normally eluded them. He has matched or bettered his previous finish at 15 different tracks.
"When you have a team like we have, it's easy to stay calm in the face of adversity," Keselowski said. "We all have each other's back. We like our role is in this Chase. While we aren't being overlooked by any means, there are many who think that we are still too young of a team to seriously challenge (Johnson's) team. We like it that way. In reality, we are a very good race team that is primed to take this fight right down to the last lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway."
Keselowski has yet to post a top-10 finish in eight races at Texas, with his best run there 14th, which came in April 2010. His worst finish there of 36th came earlier this year.
"I'm very confident in our abilities at Texas this weekend," he said. "The mile-and-a-half tracks have been really good to us this year. We had an awesome car in April at Texas, probably the best car I've ever had there. But fuel issues kept us from challenging for the win. This weekend, I'm expecting to challenge for the win."
Clint Bowyer is 26 points behind Johnson, while Johnson's teammate, Kasey Kahne, trails by 29. Bowyer won at Charlotte and then finished sixth at Kansas before placing fifth at Martinsville.
"All I can do is worry about running well and putting ourselves in position to win races every week," Bowyer said. "Bad luck is not something I can really wish upon the other guys in front of us or even worry about. We are going to need some help from the other guys to stay in this deal."
Kahne moved from fifth to fourth in the Chase rankings after his third-place run at Martinsville. He has one win at Texas, which came in April 2006.
"I still feel like I have a chance because of the way the points are," Kahne said. "We definitely still have a shot, but we're a ways out. I wish we were within 20 or 15 (points). I think we'd be a lot more legit at that point."
Fifth through 12th in Chase points right now are: Denny Hamlin (-49), Jeff Gordon (-54), Martin Truex Jr. (-63), Matt Kenseth (-65), Greg Biffle (-69), Tony Stewart (-71), Kevin Harvick (-88) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-140).
Stewart won at Texas one year ago, and Biffle took the checkered flag there earlier this season.
No member in the Chase field has been mathematically eliminated from the championship yet, but any driver who is 97 points or more out of the lead following Texas will be out of title contention.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the AAA Texas 500.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Nov. 4. Race: AAA Texas 500. Site: Texas Motor Speedway. Track: 1.5-mile oval. Start time: 3:00 p.m.(ET). Laps: 334. Miles: 501. 2011 Winner: Tony Stewart. Television: ESPN. Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.