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This Week in Auto Racing Nov. 8 - 10

2:38 AM, Nov 8, 2013   |    comments
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Avondale, AZ (SportsNetwork.com) - All three of NASCAR's national touring series are running at Phoenix International Raceway this weekend, culminating with Sunday's ninth round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

AdvoCare 500 - Phoenix International Raceway - Avondale, Ariz.

The battle between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship resumes on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.

With just two races to go, Johnson's lead over Kenseth is seven points, which is the same point margin Johnson had over Brad Keselowski one year ago when the Sprint Cup Series came to Phoenix for the penultimate race.

Johnson reclaimed the top spot in the Chase standings with a win last weekend at Texas. Kenseth and Johnson had been tied in points. But Kenseth is now faced with his largest points deficit in the Chase following a fourth-place run there.

"I'm still confident," Kenseth said. "I wish I was seven points ahead, but at the end of the day, it's in our hands. If you win both of the last two races and the math works out to where you still win it, then it's still in our hands. I have the greatest race team out there, and we're going to work as hard as we can and try to get the best finishes we can and see where it ends up."

In last year's Chase race at Phoenix, Johnson's bid for his sixth Sprint Cup championship took a huge hit when he blew a tire and made contact with the wall, which led to a 32nd-place finish. He finished 36th the following week at Homestead, as Keselowski went on to claim his first title in the series.

"We need to race well at Phoenix," Johnson said. "We finished second there in the spring, so we feel strong about our setup and the performance we should have there. But that doesn't guarantee us anything. We need to go out and have a good, strong, clean weekend."

The series most recently competed at Phoenix the first weekend in March. Carl Edwards ended a two-year, 70-race winless streak after he held off Johnson during a green-white-checkered finish.

Johnson holds the record for most wins at Phoenix with four, including three in a row from 2007-08. His most recent victory here came in the fall of 2009. Kenseth has one win at this track, which occurred 11 years ago.

Kenseth had finished outside the top-10 in both races at Phoenix during the 2011 and '12 seasons when he drove for Roush Fenway Racing. He finished seventh in this year's spring race here, which came in just his second start with Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth leads the series with seven wins this season. His most recent victory came in September at New Hampshire, which is a flat one-mile track very similar to Phoenix.

"We had a really great car (at Phoenix) in the spring," Kenseth said. "We were really good at Loudon (N.H.) and were really good at Martinsville (two weeks ago), so I'm looking forward to getting there. I hope we can run up front and have a car to win."

The points leader entering the second-to-last race in the Chase at Phoenix won the series championship in six straight seasons (2004-09). But that hasn't been the case in the past three years. Denny Hamlin (2010), Edwards (2011) and Johnson (2012) took leads to Phoenix but lost the title.

Homestead, a 1.5-mile racetrack, is scheduled for Nov. 17.

"There's still a lot of racing left, and the two tracks that remain on the schedule are very challenging tracks," Johnson said.

Kevin Harvick is currently third in points (-40), followed by Kyle Busch (-52), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-62), Jeff Gordon (-69) and Clint Bowyer (-69).

Eighth through 13th are: Greg Biffle (-73), Joey Logano (-91), Kurt Busch (-96), Edwards (-116), Ryan Newman (-118) and Kasey Kahne (-133).

Harvick won at Phoenix one year ago in a race that featured one of the most memorable brawls in NASCAR history.

Gordon and Bowyer, who were both in last year's Chase field, made contact while battling for position in the closing laps. Gordon then had a tire go down, which caused him to crash into the wall. He patiently waited for Bowyer to come around the track before he intentionally wrecked him. Aric Almirola and Logano were involved in that accident as well.

After Gordon drove back to the garage area and climbed out of his damaged car, several crew members from Bowyer's team swooped on the four-time Cup champion and attacked him. Gordon's crew quickly intervened, resulting in a huge fight.

Gordon avoided being suspended for the season-finale at Homestead, which he won, but NASCAR did penalize him with a fine of $100,000 and a loss of 25 points for his altercation with Bowyer.

After finishing 38th at Texas, Gordon dropped from third to sixth in points, ending his hopes of winning the title. Gordon suffered a flat tire and made contact with the wall in the early going. He was coming off his first win of the season at Martinsville.

"Certainly disappointing to have the race we just had in Texas," Gordon said. "But the confidence is still high. The car was fantastic again this past weekend. It felt like we were going to have a great weekend. We take that confidence in the cars that we've been bringing to the racetrack into Phoenix this weekend, on to Homestead. Finish out the season the best we can and hopefully move up in points again."

Jeff Burton, in his last season with Richard Childress Racing, is expected to make his 1,000th career NASCAR national series start on Sunday at Phoenix. Burton will become just the sixth driver to reach that milestone, joining Richard Petty (1,185), Mark Martin (1,141), Joe Nemechek (1,073), Michael Waltrip (1,062) and Terry Labonte (1,013).

Burton's start breakdown per series is 689 in Sprint Cup, 306 Nationwide and four Camping World Truck. His first NASCAR national series start came in a Nationwide race at Martinsville in 1988.

Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the AdvoCare 500.

Nationwide Series

ServiceMaster 200 - Phoenix International Raceway - Avondale, Ariz.

While Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth have a seven-point separation between them in their battle for the Sprint Cup Series championship, the gap between Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr. in their fight for the Nationwide Series title is just six points.

Last Saturday at Texas, Hornish finished third and Dillon fifth, allowing Hornish to shave two points off of Dillon's lead. Two races remain, beginning with Saturday's 200-mile event at Phoenix International Raceway. The season concludes on Nov. 16 at Homestead.

Hornish scored his first career Nationwide win two years ago at Phoenix. He finished seventh here on the first weekend in March. One week later, Hornish claimed his second and most recent victory in the series at Las Vegas.

"I'm really looking forward to going to Phoenix," Hornish said. "I love that track and have a lot of good memories there. We will see what happens. If we can take one or two (points) off this weekend that puts the pressure on him. He doesn't just have to finish within a couple spots of us then. He will have to beat us."

Dillon has finished sixth in the last two races at Phoenix, which is a flat one-mile racetrack. His best finish here is fourth, which came in March 2012.

"I like flat tracks," Dillon said. "New Hampshire Motor Speedway is an example of a flat track where I feel like I have been successful in the past, and I feel like Phoenix International Raceway has some similar characteristics, so I am looking forward to this weekend."

Dillon finished fourth at New Hampshire four months ago. He has yet to win a race this season.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Kenseth are those Sprint Cup regulars scheduled to compete in this race. Keselowski won at Texas, giving his No. 22 Penske Racing team a 26-point lead over the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing team in the owners' championship standings.

Busch has the most Nationwide victories at Phoenix with five. He started on the pole and won the spring race here.

Forty-two teams are on the entry list for the ServiceMaster 200.

Camping World Truck Series

Lucas Oil 150 - Phoenix International Raceway - Avondale, Ariz.

The championships in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series won't be decided until the following weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but the title in the Camping World Truck Series could be determined on Friday night at Phoenix International Raceway.

Matt Crafton presently holds a 46-point lead over second-place and defending truck champion James Buescher. Ty Dillon is only one point behind Buescher after winning last week at Texas. Crafton finished 10th there after he dealt with an ill-handling truck for most of the race.

If Crafton can win at Phoenix or hold a point lead of 49 or more over his closest competitor at the conclusion of this 150-mile race then he will clinch the championship here.

Crafton has recorded eight top-10 finishes in 12 truck starts at Phoenix. His best finish at this track is third, which came in 2004.

"We'll unload at Phoenix prepared to win the race, and that's all we'll look at, but at the same time, we'll keep trying to make smart decisions," Crafton said.

This will be the second time truck teams have competed at Phoenix since it was reconfigured in 2011. The series raced here the last weekend in February during the '11 season, prior to the reconfiguration.

Crafton had completed every lap in his first 11 truck races at Phoenix. But just past the halfway point in last year's event at this track, which was held in November, Crafton wrecked into the wall after he made contact with Parker Kligerman. He spent nine laps behind the wall for repairs and ended up finishing 20th.

"The old track was always a big favorite of mine, because I knew it like the back of my hand," Crafton said. "But that's kind of funny because the new racetrack isn't a ton different."

Crafton's No. 88 ThorSport Racing team could clinch the owners' championship at Phoenix as well. The No. 88 enters this race with a 32-point lead over the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports team. Kyle Busch finished 28th at Texas after he suffered engine failure late in the event. Erik Jones is driving the No. 51 truck at Phoenix.

Thirty-six teams are on the entry list for the Lucas Oil 150.

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