NASCAR Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Will Jimmie Johnson Continue Texas Greatness?

Will Jimmie Johnson Continue Texas Greatness on Sunday?

He’s in better condition than other any driver entering this Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson, with a win last week at Martinsville Speedway pushing him to the Championship 4 finale in Homestead-Miami Speedway, has stellar numbers at Texas Motor Speedway, making him the hottest guy in the garage once again.

Will the six-time champion go back-to-back in the Round of 8? Judging by the past few years at Texas, you’ll never know until the final laps. In last year’s fall race, Johnson made a shocking pass on Brad Keselowski, who had dominated up to that point, stealing the win with four laps to go.

Plus, with 904 laps led in the last nine Texas races, Johnson has slayed the field in five of the last eight races, proving to be the premium package in the Lone Star State.

Giving someone like Johnson a worry-free label entering arguably his best racetrack could prove to be a dangerous thing. But even with seven Chasers on his heels, Johnson will have every right to keep them out of Victory Lane to ease his path toward a seventh Cup title at Homestead.

Will Texas Live Up to Its Recent Surprises?

Even under the 2015 rules package, the fall Texas race last year put on quite the show in the closing stages of the Chase. Tire failures struck multiple big names, becoming a concern after only 50 laps, when Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick had flat tires, with the latter suffering two tire failures along with a broken shifter in the later going.

Harvick, with one hand on the shifter and the other on the steering wheel, still finished third. Quite the performance.

Additionally, after being dominated by Keselowski, who led 312 of 334 laps, the race was officially turned on its head when Johnson caught and passed Keselowski with just four laps to go.

Just when you thought you knew a race, the 2015 fall Texas race happened.

With seven drivers going for the final three remaining spots in the Championship 4 in Homestead, what can we expect this time?

One of the things that could boil over on Sunday is the oddity of the Joe Gibbs Racing camp and how they have raced each other the past few weeks.

With four drivers in the Round of 8, how can you possibly screw this up? With dominant cars almost a certainty every week, it’s the mental side that plagued the team starting at Kansas Speedway, when Kyle Busch was held up by Carl Edwards in the closing laps.

Two weeks later at Martinsville, Busch once again “couldn’t get by” teammate Denny Hamlin, keeping the No. 18 from catching Johnson for the win.

Now, heading into Texas as the defending winner, Busch will likely have 1.5-mile king Martin Truex, Jr. in his way toward a fifth win of 2016. Oh boy, how happy will Busch be after that one?

In addition to that mess, we have the points battle to look at, with the final elimination race taking place next week at Phoenix International Raceway.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTX39mc-PG0

With only 10 points separating second-place Hamlin and fifth-place (and currently eliminated) Logano, Sunday is a crucial day to be in good standing at Phoenix. Behind Logano, it could be even more important, as Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Harvick and Kurt Busch can still make it on points but must bring home strong results at both Texas and Phoenix.

Carl Edwards, who sits 32 points back after a crash at Martinsville, is in the worst position and will simply have to get after it for the next two weeks.

With plenty to watch this Sunday, keep your eyes out for a fight as well. Or better yet… a darn good race. Those happen here too.

Will Having All Three Series Racing at Texas Help the Weekend?

Wait… it’s the Round of 8, right? Oh, the Round of 12 for this series and the second race of the Round of 8 over here and only one week remaining until an elimination over there.

Boy, this triple-header Chase with Cup, XFINITY and Trucks got a little confusing this season, as all three series were not matched up to their respective Chase eliminations. It’s been a couple months of reminders from the series Twitter pages to get me back in the loop for the bottom two series.

Alas, that scavenger hunt is over, and all three series will evenly match up for the final three races of 2016. Hallelujah!

2016 Atlanta NXS Blake Koch Nigel Kinrade NKP
With a rookie team, Blake Koch has given NASCAR nation a story to watch in the XFINITY Chase. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade NKP)

But was it truly a bad thing to have three different Chases not align perfectly? For simplicity, yeah, it was confusing. It may have even taken away some excitement from the lower divisions when the Cup guys had an elimination race and the other two didn’t.

However, there were a few points when I appreciated each series having their own unique Chase season. If the Cup Series has an elimination weekend, will you really be paying close attention the Truck Series that weekend anyway?

At this point of the season, it seems perfect to sync up the series for the final three races: One safety race, the elimination and the championship showdown in Miami.

A run of three straight triple-headers starts this weekend at Texas, which comes before the three doses of eliminations at Phoenix.

There finally won’t be question of where each series is on their Chase seasons. Let’s line them all up and race.

Will Austin Dillon Sweep the Weekend with Triple Duty?

When you no longer have a championship to chase, why not go and have some fun on Friday and Saturday, too?

For Austin Dillon, that’s the plan this weekend at Texas, as he will perform triple duty in the Camping World Truck, XFINITY and Sprint Cup Series. Starting with the Striping Technology 350 on Friday night, Dillon will make his first Truck start of 2016 in the No. 71.

Dillon has two top-5 finishes in four prior Truck starts at Texas, and will likely play a factor in the Truck championship by running up front against the Chase drivers.

Jumping to the XFINITY race on Saturday, it’s the same picture, as Dillon will likely be a contender for the checkered flag against Kyle Larson, Harvick and Keselowski, plus a slew of regulars. He’s never finished worse than eighth in eight XFINITY races at Texas.

And finally, the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday. Dillon has blown his career-high numbers out of the water in 2016, earning four top-5 and 13 top-10 finishes. However, his career at Texas hasn’t been as impressive, as the 26-year-old hasn’t reached the top 10 in seven prior starts.

The opportunity to sweep the weekend is on Dillon’s shoulders. Though wins in the Truck and XFINITY Series may not be surprising, it’s that Cup win on Sunday that will truly make it a memorable weekend.

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Rick Dupuis

Something to consider: Kyle Busch won the championship last season.
Richard Petty never won a championship after Dale Earnhardt won his first championship.
Dale Earnhardt never won a championship after Jeff Gordon won his first championship.
Jeff Gordon never won a championship after Jimmie Johnson won his first championship.
Not saying Johnson won’t win this year but….

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