It’s week nine of the Chase, the next to last race of the year, as the Sprint Cup series heads to Phoeni. Of course, we all will be watching what points leader Jimmie Johnson and second-place Brad Keselowski do. Johnson has a seven-point lead going in and while Keselowski doesn’t have to have a huge day, if he gains three or four points on the leader, that will set things up nicely for Homestead-Miami next week. However, if Keselowski loses, say even seven or eight points, he’ll be in a tough spot to try and catch the five-time champion.
As for this Sunday, it would be a surprise if each Johnson and Keselowski were not on the top of their games. So, no matter what past history is telling us, they’re each must picks this week.
Top 5 Picks
1. Jimmie Johnson. It’s true he hasn’t won in the last five races at Phoenix, but he does have four top-5 finishes in those races and has led 187 laps. That may be bad news for Keselowski, because if a driver is leading that many laps and finishing that well at a track, that usually means a win is not too far away.
2. Brad Keselowski. Here we go again, ignoring so many of his past performances at Phoenix. The driver of the No. 2 Dodge has an average finish of 19.2 in his last five races there, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope. Keselowski finished fifth in the spring race there and with so much on the line now, it’s hard to imagine this team not being prepared for every scenario this week.
3. Denny Hamlin. After being a contender for the title until two races ago, he’s been reduced to spoiler status now. Last week’s performance at Texas, where he finished 20th, was a little disturbing because he has been so good there in the past and was never a factor Sunday. We’ll give him one more chance this week as he has led 260 laps in the last five races at Phoenix, including one win.
4. Tony Stewart. He showed he was still giving his best all the way to the end with last week’s fifth-place finish at Texas. And while it isn’t a big issue, he probably would like to finish ahead of Hamlin and former crew chief Darian Grubb, just so he can say he had a better season with his hiring of this year’s crew chief Steve Addington. While Stewart hasn’t won in the last five races at Phoenix, he is second to Hamlin with 243 laps led in those races.
5. Kyle Busch. The No. 18 team has had its frustrations this year for sure, including missing the Chase. But what I like about the team is that it continues to go out and compete and try to win races. Busch has led 194 laps in the last five trips to Phoenix, so based on that and his recent contention in races, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in Victory Lane Sunday night.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda: Jeff Gordon. He got off on the wrong foot to start the Chase when his throttle stuck at Chicagoland, costing him what would have been at least a top-10 finish. But Gordon has been a contender in several races since then and he does have a win in his last five races at Phoenix.
Here’s a look at how last week’s picks fared in Week 8 of the Chase at Texas.
Jimmie Johnson – 1st. The five-time champion displayed his poise and patience, using the final restart to get the edge and race right into victory lane.
Brad Keselowski – 2nd. He was a contender to win at a track where he had traditionally struggled. That’s a good sign for this team in the last two races.
Denny Hamlin – 20th. His recent and long-term history at Texas has been outstanding, so this finish was a real headscratcher.
Matt Kenseth – 4th. For once, not a win or 30 plus finish for the Kenseth. He’s had a nice rebound since a poor start in the Chase.
Greg Biffle – 10th. He has been traditionally strong at Texas, and while this was certainly no disaster, it was a bit of surprise that he didn’t contend for the win.
54 Top 5s
81 Top 10s
Grade for the week: A-. That’s a winner two weeks in a row thanks to Johnson, and Keselowski came through even though he had not been good at Texas. Picking three of the top 5, and four of the top 10 is a pretty good day.
One last thing: Keselowski is trying to become the first Dodge driver to win a title since Richard Petty in 1975.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.