This time last year, I was talking about how one man began using the Chase and a new points system to show what it takes to come from behind to win a championship. That man was Tony Stewart, who threw down the gauntlet to Carl Edwards one week earlier to keep him on edge for the final races of the season.
Sure enough, Stewart lived up to the talk, winning three of the last four races to tie for the title, but win it due to amount of victories.
Fast forward one year later, NASCAR is back at the Texas Motor Speedway and a similar situation is occurring. There’s a few differences though, mainly in who’s involved in the title hunt and the position of the one throwing down the gauntlet.
Here’s what I mean, one week ago it was Jimmie Johnson gaining the maximum points one can get in a NASCAR race to overtake the lead in the Chase. Heading into this past weekend’s race at Texas, Johnson was ahead by just two points. However, that win made a statement to his closest competitor, Brad Keselowski, that he was still in the Chase, and was still planning on getting a sixth championship.
However he didn’t throw down the gauntlet with his mouth, he did it on the track.
Fast forward a week, Keselowski got the message. Yes, Johnson took the pole, and then went on to lead the most laps. But, Keselowski was the one making the late-race gamble, and nearly had it won had it not been for some late cautions. But, Keselowski and Johnson went out and battled on the track, like two old-school dirt track racers banging doors while slinging clay. Both would go door to door for the lead, and would make each other earn the spot.
Johnson would be the one getting the lead on the final restart, winning the race and earning the maximum amount of points once again.
That’s two weeks in a row Johnson has been the dominant car, and would end up in victory lane. Now with a seven-point gap, Johnson is putting the pressure on Keselowski to come catch him. Last year, Stewart was second following Texas, three points back, and was challenging Edwards to try and stop him. Same scenario this year, but opposite positions.
Only two races remain this year, and there are two clear favorites to win the championship. Yes, a third driver is waiting in the wings for either or both to have a bad week and then pounce on the opportunity.
But, the bottom line at this point in the Chase, the driver to beat is going to be Johnson. He’s won the Chase in a 10-driver format and a 12-driver format, but he failed to win the Chase when the “wild card” spots were introduced. Now, he’s got the chance to add another championship to what is surely a hall of fame career.
Keselowski, meanwhile, now knows how far he must push himself and Johnson in order to win his first ever championship. He burst onto the scene last year following an injury and made the Chase the hard way, as a wild card. This year, he earned the spot in the Chase with wins, and has shown to be one of the best guys on the track in the final 10 races.
Strap in everyone, these final two weeks will be ones to remember.
RESULTS: 1-Johnson 2-Keselowski 3-Kyle Busch 4-Kenseth 5-Stewart 6-Bowyer 7-Earnhardt Jr. 8-Kurt Busch 9-Harvick 10-Biffle
NOTABLE FINISHES: 13-Truex Jr. 14-Gordon 20-Hamlin 25-Kahne
CAUTIONS: 9 for 49 laps. Lap 101-104 (Debris), 110-118 (#51 accident-FS), 120-128 (#42, 47, 21 accident-FS), 186-190 (Debris), 224-227 (Debris), 276-280 (Debris), 311-315 (#9 accident-T1), 322-326 (Debris), 331-333 (#55, 99 accident-FS).
LEAD CHANGES: 20 among 7 drivers. Johnson 1-48, Newman 49-50, Johnson 51-101, Newman 102-105, Keselowski 106-118, Johnson 119-165, Kyle Busch 166, Kenseth 167, Bayne 168-171, Kvapil 172, Johnson 173-190, Kyle Busch 191-223, Keselowski 224, Kyle Busch 225-235, Keselowski 236-276, Kyle Busch 277-311, Johnson 312, Keselowski 313-326, Johnson 327, Keselowski 328-333, Johnson 334-335.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 41 Mins, 30 Secs.
AVERAGE SPEED: 136.117 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.808 Seconds
2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup: 1. Johnson, 2339 points; 2. Keselowski, -7; 3. Bowyer, -36; 4. Kahne, -58; 5. Kenseth, -72; 6. Gordon, -72; 7. Hamlin, -73; 8. Stewart, -80; 9. Truex Jr, -80; 10. Biffle, -83; 11. Harvick, -101; 12. Earnhardt Jr, -151.