Eyes of Texas on Jimmie in Chase

Oct 31, 2006 4:50 AM

This week’s race at Texas is the eighth of 10 races in the chase for the championship and 34th of the season.

It’s the second race of the season at Texas. The first came in April with Kasey Kahne winning. This also marks the second year in row where the Texas facility has hosted two Nextel Cup dates in one season.

I don’t think anyone would disagree with the statement that the Chase for the Championship format is a success. It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do. Thus far into the chase we have had three different leaders. Even more exciting is the fact there have been six different drivers in second place.

Following the Atlanta race last week, seven of the Chase drivers changed positions in the top 10. The seventh place driver, Jeff Gordon, is only 146 points out of first place.

Jimmie Johnson currently sits second after his runnerup finish in Atlanta. This marks the third consecutive year that Johnson has been ranked second in points following the fall Atlanta race. He currently is the hottest driver on tour, leading in 5-of-7 Chase races. In his last three events, Johnson has finished either first or second.

Matt Kenseth has a short lead in the standings and has been playing safe with the consistent runs week after week. However, Johnson is on an absolute tear right now. Even though Johnson has looked like he doesn’t want to win the title (evidenced by his early Chase performances over the years) he just may take it. Johnson has never won Texas, but his past successes in the Chase after he got his 40th place runs out of the way say he’s due.

Johnson has won only once in the seven Chase races thus far. In the previous two Chase seasons, he has combined to win six of the 20 Chase races. At Texas, Johnson has never won. Still, he never finished worse than 11th in six career starts. His average finish at the track is an amazing seventh, which is the best among all drivers over that span.

If Johnson were to win this week, he could be the point leader at race end if Kenseth were to finish sixth or worse. Johnson currently is 2-1 to win the title as the second choice behind season long favored Kenseth at 6-5.

It looks like too easy of a scenario for Johnson to win this week. Kasey Kahne stopped his 1.5 mile fast track win streak at four by not winning last week in Atlanta. Johnson is on fire, he’s been successful at the track, and he’s never won on it; All plusses in my mind, not to mention what may be the biggest positive is that his name is Jimmie Johnson in Dallas, "How bout them Cowboys!"

In 11 races at Texas Motor Speedway there have been 11 different winners. Ironically, none have come from Cup All-Star teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. For Gordon, it remains one of the few tracks that he has never won on.

Like Johnson, Gordon too has had success at the track without winning. Gordon is tied with Mark Martin as track leaders with four top 5 finishes. Martin happens to come from the winningest stable of drivers to race at Texas. The Roush organization has five of the 11 wins at Texas.

Notes of interest

”¡ Keep your eye on Casey Mears

Mears has top15 finishes in each of his last four races at Texas. The entire Ganassi crew, which includes David Stremme and Reed Sorenson, may all look to be good drivers to wager on in matchups.

”¡ Three of the seven Chase races have been won by non-Chase drivers this year. Tony Stewart took Kansas and Atlanta while Brian Vickers stole Talladega. It’s the same amount from last season and one more than 2004.

”¡ Texas Terry Labonte is expected to make his 848th career start this week in Texas in what is expected to be the final start of his career. The Corpus Christi native took the checkers at his home state track back in ’99. He’s a class Gentleman whose example set will be missed amid the new generation of NASCAR drivers.

”¡ Two drivers who are getting it done; One, you’d expect while the other comes from no where. Carl Edwards won at this Texas race last season and is currently in the midst of six straight top 15 finishes. Terry’s little brother, Bobby Labonte, has scored six straight top 15 finishes as well. This is the best run of the season for the Richard Petty team. They should run well again this week. It would be nice to see the powder blue No. 43 being competitive every week.