The Chase has come down to two possible victors, Jimmie Johnson (48) and Carl Edwards (99) as everyone else has been mathematically eliminated. All Johnson has to do is finish 36th or better, regardless of what Edwards does, to clinch his record tying third straight championship.
Johnson’s chances of winning the Championship look good as he has only finished out of the top 36 once at this track, and only once this season. In fact, Johnson has finished 37th or worse only 7 times in the last 107 races (2006-last week). That is amazing.
It makes you wonder what kind of preparation his team might be doing differently this race compared to the last 9 races in the Chase in order to get him that third Championship.
Back in the mid-1990’s Championship contender Dale Earnhardt was in a situation similar to that of Johnson’s. Earnhardt’s Richard Childress Racing crew pulled out all the stops to get him locked into that Championship ASAP.
They even brought another car with another driver to qualify it in the race so that Dale would have a back-up car to jump into in case his car had a terminal problem just before the start of the race. The car was set-up exactly like Dale’s and, if memory serves correct, it ran exactly one lap before it pulled off the track and was parked. The crew even brought another trailer down with so many extra parts in it to rebuild the Dale’s car in the event of crash that it looked like a mobile NAPA store – they even hung a kitchen sink off of one of the trailer’s walls.
Earnhardt won the Championship that year.
What ever Johnson’s crew and Crew Chief, Chad Knaus, do I’m sure it’ll be well thought out. Johnson just has to watch himself out on the track and make sure not to get caught up in someone else’s mess. In Phoenix his philosophy was "the best defense is a good offence" and he took it to heart by winning the race and leading the most laps in order to get those valuable bonus points. Look for a similar strategy this weekend.
The No. 48 Lowes team must get that car set-up well, especially in the corners. If the driver can’t keep on the gas in the corners the car will push coming off the turn forcing the driver to lift off of the gas and loose speed coming off of the corner and onto the long straight-aways. If you loose speed in the corners you will get passed, period.
Drivers to watch at this track include Johnson and Edwards, but look for Jeff Gordon (24) to be pulling out all of the stops to get his first win of the season. Speaking of first wins I expect David Ragan (6) to be doing the same thing as Gordon to get his first Cup win ever.
Things to watch for during this race include; the battle to get in or stay in the Top 35 of Owner’s points to guarantee starting spots for the first 5 races of the season; Tony Stewart in his last race with Joe Gibbs Racing and in the No. 20 car; and the driver swap of team mates Brian Vickers and Scott Speed so that Vickers can get the No. 84 car into the top 35 of Owner Points - they are just 17 points out of 35th right now.
Speaking of things to watch, NASCAR’s other two racing series, Craftsman Truck and Nationwide, finish this weekend in Miami too. The truck series has come down to a 3 point difference between first place Johnny Benson (23) and second place Ron Hornaday (33) while the Nationwide series has a close 56 point battle between first place Clint Bowyer (2) and second place Carl Edwards (60). These two races are shaping up to be pretty good ones.
Anyway you look at it there is still some good racing to be had this week, and you better get your NASCAR fix in now because that’s it until mid-February when it starts all over again.