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Race Day: Is The Chase A Duet Or A Quintet?

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 6 2011

Carl Edwards' car is pushed out to pit road early in the weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Has the Chase become a two-car affair? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

If you believe the hype coming into today’s AAA Texas 500 Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, there are only two drivers left in contention for this year’s championship. But who believes that hype?

Counting today’s race, there are three events left in the season. And there are five drivers who are within 43 points of leader Carl Edwards, and 35 of second-place Tony Stewart.

If either, or both, were to blow an engine or offend Kyle Busch (oh, that’s right) early in the race (like before the start-and-park guys head to the garages) things could get real tight real quick.

Five-time champ Jimmie Johnson could even become a contender for six-time status as he is the guy just 43 points back.

That’s all mathematics, however. What do the folks who will have the closest view of the action today think about the number of contenders left in the field?

Here is what a select group of drivers had to say:

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge: “The top four guys, they’ve separated themselves.  (Brad) Keselowski’s still living the dream and we’re rooting for him.  Like at Martinsville last week, any chance to help him we will and we’ll continue to.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motor Sports Chevrolet: “It is getting interesting; it is tough to say, I think Tony has surprised so many of us. You look at the season that he has had and coming into the Chase, really not showing a lot of strength, but getting in and being on fire in the Chase. All along, I feel like Carl (Edwards) was the guy to beat this whole season, even going back to last season. I think they are going to be tough to beat. Between Tony and (Kevin) Harvick, looks like Tony is putting up a heck of a fight and a Two-Time champion, you can’t count him out.”

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolete: “I think we are going to see, with an eight point spread between first and second and I don’t know how far back Kevin (Harvick) is, um 21, it is hard to say. I don’t see Tony (Stewart) or Carl (Edwards) having any bad tracks moving forward. Tony has shown his strengths  at the mile-and-a-half’s, he is great at Phoenix, granted Phoenix has changed and it is a crap shoot for anybody, but the No. 99 (Edwards) has been strong on the mile-and-a-half stuff, I think we are going to have a shoot out till the end. If something does happen with either one of them obviously, it opens the door for a bunch of other guys, but I just don’t see any big mistakes coming from those guys, but time will tell.”

Fast facts

Where: Texas Motor Speedway; Fort Worth, Texas

When: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, 2 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90

Race distance: 334 laps/501 miles

Track layout: 1.5-mile oval

Frontstretch: 2,250 feet

Backstretch: 1,330 feet

Banking on straightaways: 5 degrees

Banking in turns: 24 degrees

2010 winner: Denny Hamlin

2010 polesitter: Elliott Sadler

Today’s polesitter: Greg Biffle

Website: texasmotorspeedway.com

Points leaders: 1. Carl Edwards, 2,273; 2. Tony Stewart, 2,265; 3. Kevin Harvick, 2,252; 4. Brad Keselowski, 2,246; 5. Matt Kenseth, 2,237; 6. Jimmie Johnson, 2,230; 7. Kyle Busch, 2,216; 8. Kurt Busch, 2,215; 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2,200; 10. Jeff Gordon, 2,197; 11. Denny Hamlin, 2,193; 12. Ryan Newman, 2,184.

Mr. President

It didn’t take TMS president Eddie Gossage long to use Edwards vs. Stewart in ticket sales promotions.

Tony Stewart fans celebrate at Martinsville. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

Gossage seized on the championship boxing motif before the engines had cooled at Martinsville last week and has ridden it ever since.

Edwards didn’t seem to thrilled with the process. Stewart? He took a few questions about it and it went like this:

Stewart: “I think that’s why Eddie Gossage is one of the best promoters in the United States and probably will be before it’s all said and done. I thought it was funny personally. I was just glad I was the guy that got to wear the black hat.”

Question: Do you think the idea came from your statements at Martinsville?

Stewart: “There’s no doubt it did. It shows you how good of a promoter Eddie is. I guarantee by Monday morning he already had that idea done.”

Questioner: He didn’t wait until Monday.

Stewart: “That’s what I’m saying, by Monday morning he was done already. He already knew what he was going to do.”

Question: Were you throwing down the gauntlet?

Stewart: “No, I just stated a fact that we’re ready for this. We’re ready for these three weeks. After a race like we had last Sunday, I’m ready to go for these weeks. If anybody counts us out they’re making a mistake.”

Trivia time

Which driver in today’s field has the best average finish at Texas?

View from the top

Jimmie Johnson was asked to handicap the field of contenders who looking to end his five-year reign.

Jimmie Johnson at TMS. Is he in or out? (RacinToday/HHP photo by Gregg Ellman)

He said, “I think we are going to see, with an eight point spread between first and second and I don’t know how far back Kevin (Harvick) is, um 21, it is hard to say. I don’t see Tony (Stewart) or Carl (Edwards) having any bad tracks moving forward. Tony has shown his strengths  at the mile-and-a-half’s, he is great at Phoenix, granted Phoenix has changed and it is a crap shoot for anybody, but the No. 99 (Edwards) has been strong on the mile-and-a-half stuff, I think we are going to have a shoot out till the end. If something does happen with either one of them obviously, it opens the door for a bunch of other guys, but I just don’t see any big mistakes coming from those guys, but time will tell.”

By the numbers

AAA Texas 500

Texas Motor Speedway (all 21 Sprint Cup races included)

1 – number of wins from the pole (Kasey Kahne, 4/9/06)

1 – fewest laps led by race winner (Jeff Burton, 4/15/07)

4 – fewest leaders (11/8/09)

5 – fewest caution  (three times, most recent 4/9/11)

6 – number of jet dryers available for track drying this weekend at TMS

6 – fewest cars on lead lap at finish (11/8/09)

5 – number of cautions during spring race

17 – most leaders (4/2/00)

24 – fewest caution laps (4/9/11)

73 – most caution laps (4/6/97)

40 – most cars running at finish (twice, most recent 11/2/08)

120 minutes – amount of time it takes to dry the 1.5-mile track after a significant rainfall.

278 – most laps led by race winner (Tony Stewart, 11/5/06)

2,650 – number of tires Goodyear will mount for Sprint Cup teams during the weekend; teams may receive as many as five sets of tires for practice and 11 sets for the race.

Key TMS Dates

1995 – construction began

1997 – first Sprint Cup race

2005 – first year track hosted two Sprint Cup events

2011 Caution Update

7 – number of races extended beyond scheduled distance in 2011

3 – fewest cautions this season (New Hampshire, 9/25/11)

18 – most cautions this season (Martinsville, 10/30/11)

257 – number of cautions in the first 33 races of 2011; includes 131 for accidents, 57 for debris and 32 for spins

1,253 of 9,637– number of laps under caution in 2011

1,671.007 of 13,023.238 – miles under caution in the first 33 races

BONUS:  Three Texas tracks have hosted 30 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races with Texas Motor Speedway the site of 21 races since 1997.  Meyer Speedway in Houston hosted one race in 1971 and Texas World Speedway in College Station hosted eight from 1969 to 1981.

Trivia answer

Matt Kenseth has an average finish of 9.0 at Texas. That is best among all drivers starting today’s race. Kenseth has two victories at TMS.

Up next

The series head to Phoenix International Raceway next weekend. Carl Edwards won the pole and the race there a year ago. Next week, however, the Cup cars will be racing for the first time on PIR’s revamped surface.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 6 2011
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