Jimmie Johnson is closing in on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship after his clutch win in Texas last Sunday moved him to a seven-point lead over Matt Kenseth. But there’s still two races left and no one knows better than Johnson how a steady lead can fall apart on Phoenix International Raceway, where the circuit heads for Sunday’s Advocare 500 (3 PM ET, ESPN).
In 2012, Johnson looked ready to survive a tough fight with Brad Keselowski when the Chase For The Cup reached this point, but a 32nd-place finish in Phoenix swung the championship Keselowski’s way.
JJ might be hoping that this history doesn’t repeat itself, but history in general has been very good to him at Phoenix. Last year’s wipeout was his only bad race in what’s been dominating run in the desert since 2008. In the eleven races run here in that timespan, Johnson has won three times, and finished in the top five the other six. If he repeats any of those showings, he holds his lead to the final week regardless of what Kenseth does.
Kenseth’s history is less stellar. He had wipeout races (30th or lower) twice, another 27th, and in that same 2008-13 timeframe, has never finished in the top five and only three times in the Top 10. Kenseth is 39-years-old, so it’s not about his being too young. The fans pulling for him–which include me–have to hope this spotty history is more coincidence than anything to do with the track.
Both drives are listed as 4-1 odds to win on Sunday, with Kyle Busch coming in at 5-1, and everyone else 10-1 or lower. No other drivers are in contention for the Cup, with third-place Kevin Harvick being forty points off the pace. It would take miraculous finishes two straight weeks–Harvick winning and both leaders wiping out–for the third-place finisher to have a chance.