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JOHNSON, KESELOWSKI EMBARK ON SHOOTOUT FOR SPRINT CUP SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP DURING AAA TEXAS 500

by TMS Admin | Oct 31, 2012
  • Double Date For Patrick At AAA Texas 500 Race Weekend
  • Kahne, Bowyer Not Backing Down In Championship Hunt
  • Earnhardt Jr. Readies For Texas After Returning Last Week At Martinsville

FORT WORTH, Texas (Oct. 31, 2012) – A victory by Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville Speedway last weekend coupled with a sixth-place finish by Brad Keselowski have turned Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway – the eighth race in the 10-event Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – into another dramatic Texas shootout for the series championship.

Johnson, whose victory vaulted him atop the Sprint Cup Series standings, holds a two-point advantage over Keselowski. Johnson’s slim lead marks the closest championship battle entering the eighth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup since the format was adopted in 2004. With Johnson perched atop his familiar place in the standings, he enters this weekend’s AAA Texas 500 with confidence but also with the understanding that his quest for a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship is far from over.

“We’ve done a very nice job over these seven races to put ourselves in the points lead,” Johnson said. “We’ve had a variety of different races finish with fuel mileage and things like that that have kept us out of Victory Lane and certainly played into their (Keselowski’s) hands. The next two races will tell the tale. Anything can happen. We could both wad it up next week and Clint Bowyer is your champion. You never know. You got to go race the race.”

Despite losing the points lead, Keselowski remains optimistic about his chances at winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship and rebounding this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

He battled back from a poor qualifying performance (starting 32nd) and struggled for much of the race, but fought back for a sixth-place finish. His performance felt more like a victory, keeping him in contention for a championship.

“You just have to be in position where you’ve got a shot at it and we’re doing the things it’s going to take to be in contention at Homestead,” Keselowski said. “We’ve got Texas coming up, very similar to Chicago (where he won to kick off the Chase). I’m sure it’s going to be a duel.”

Keselowski understands that defeating a driver that has mastered the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup like Johnson will not be easy. However, he believes he and his Penske Racing team are up to the challenge.

“I feel like we’ve got a great shot at it,” Keselowski said. “I feel like Texas is very similar to Chicago, and Homestead is not that far off of those are as far as how they drive, the way the tires fall off and so forth. I feel like our cars have been really strong at those style tracks. That’s been our strong suite and I think that we can keep that going. I’m really confident in that.”

Johnson has seen the tenacity that Keselowski has put up during the seven races in the Chase – scoring two victories and finishing outside the top 10 only once.

He has seen his share of title contenders during his five championship runs and while most have failed at knocking him off, Johnson has taken notice of Keselowski and is not taking him lightly.

Johnson, however, holds a distinct edge over Keselowski when it comes to past performance at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson ranks second all time among Sprint Cup Series drivers at Texas with a finishing average of 9.72 in 18 career starts. He owns 13 top-10 finishes, including eight among the top five, and landed his only win at TMS in this event in 2007. In his most recent visit in April, he finished second to Greg Biffle in the Samsung Mobile 500.

Keselowski has made eight career Sprint Cup starts at Texas Motor Speedway and will be seeking his first top-10 finish in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. His best finish is 14th in the 2010 Samsung Mobile 500 and he finished 36th in his most recent appearance in April’s event.

“The championships I’ve won, I saw a lot of amazing things out of my competition,” Johnson said. “I’m certainly seeing that with Brad. So it’s just that familiar space where you can’t count him out. They’re a good team. I see more of a familiar, never quit, fight-to-the-end attitude out of the No. 2 team that I’ve seen with some of the best in the sport, if it’s Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon.”

Tickets for the AAA Texas 500 are available by calling the Texas Motor Speedway ticket office at (817) 215-8500 or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.

Double Date With Danica

Danica Patrick will be performing double duty this weekend as she will compete in both Saturday’s Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge and Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500. Patrick, a fulltime Nationwide Series competitor, will be making her ninth Sprint Cup start for Stewart-Haas Racing as part of her limited schedule in the top-tier series before moving there fulltime in 2013. It will be her first Sprint Cup start at Texas Motor Speedway, but she has plenty of experience at the venue with 11 combined starts between the Nationwide Series (3) and IZOD IndyCar Series (8).

She has experienced her share of success at TMS, earning five top-10 finishes in eight career starts in the IZOD IndyCar Series, including a runner-up finish in the 2010 Firestone 550k. Patrick demonstrated in April that she also can wheel a stock car as well, earning her first top-10 finish of the Nationwide Series season during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.

“I’ve always enjoyed coming to Texas,” Patrick said. “Not only is there great crowds and a great atmosphere, I like the track. I think I tend to perform well on the really banked tracks. I’ve enjoyed coming here since the first time I was in an Indy car and the first time I was in a stock car. I’m glad to come back. Hopefully it will be a good weekend for us.”

Team owner and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart selected a 10-race schedule that would challenge his new driver. Races at Daytona, Darlington, Bristol and Texas, among others offered the challenges Stewart felt Patrick needed to face before making the move next year.

Patrick has struggled during her eight starts this season, finishing a season-best 25th at Chicagoland Speedway. While the results may not be there, Stewart is pleased with the progress his protégé has made this year considering she has completed more than 90 percent of the laps during those races.  

“There wasn’t anything to learn by going to easy tracks this year on a partial schedule,” Stewart said. “The schedule she is going to have next year she is going to have to go to these hard tracks. Being able to just have the experience of going the year before even if it’s a rough experience you at least learn and get a base of that track anytime you do something for the first time it’s tough. The second time is always easier. Though she may not see the benefit of it right now she will next year.”

Lurking In The Shadows

Michael Waltrip Racing’s Clint Bowyer and Hendrick Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne are not bothered by the notion of calling the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup a two-driver race between leader Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski.

Bowyer, who trails Johnson by 26 points, and Kahne, who trails by 29, head to Texas Motor Speedway looking for a strong result in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 to possibly put them in position to make them a threat for the title.

“I still feel like I have a chance because of the way the points are,” Kahne said. “You can have a bad race. Denny (Hamlin) lost tons of points just by things that happen in racing. It’s part of the sport.”

Both drivers have had success at Texas Motor Speedway, but it is Kahne that has a victory – which came during the 2006 Samsung/RadioShack 500 – on his resume.

Bowyer has excelled despite being winless at Texas Motor Speedway. He has seven top-10 finishes in 13 career starts, including four top-10 finishes in his four previous AAA Texas 500 appearances. He fell short of earning his first victory during the 2011 Samsung Mobile 500 when he led 44 laps, only to finish runner-up to Matt Kenseth.

"I want to leave Texas a full-on sportsman," Bowyer said. "I want a shotgun (given to the pole winner) to go turkey hunting and pistols (fired by the winner in Victory Lane) just in case the Wild Wild West fires back up. I want guns when I leave here blazing. That's exactly what I want. I've never had those and they're awesome."

Back On Track

Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition last weekend at Martinsville following a two-race absence after sustaining two concussions in recent months. Concussions sustained during testing at Kansas Speedway on Aug. 29 and during an accident at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 7 prompted Earnhardt Jr. to step out of the cockpit.

Earnhardt Jr. has grown from his experience, but is ready to shift his focus back to racing.

“I want to run hard, and I want us to go into every weekend trying to do what we’ve been doing all year long,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I’m glad I did what I did. I’m glad I took the time off and made the choices that I made. They were hard to make, but I had to do it.”

With Earnhardt Jr.’s attention back on racing, he is confident about moving forward at a track like Texas Motor Speedway where he has had a great deal of success. Earnhardt Jr. earned his first career Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series victories at Texas Motor Speedway.

In his five previous appearances he has four top-10 finishes, including a seventh-place effort in last year’s AAA Texas 500. In his 20 career starts, he has amassed 11 top-10 finishes. While he’s had success at Texas Motor Speedway, it can present a challenge to drivers.

“It’s a mile-and-a-half like a lot of the other tracks we run on in the series, but this track has got some oddities to it and things about it that make it a lot different than most of the other mile-and-a-half tracks,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “The exit to Turn 2 is a real challenge. The bumps and stuff are pretty challenging at the bottom of both corners. The entry to (Turn) 3 is really, really loose. It’s a unique place and what makes it even better is the energy the fans bring here. The fan base here has always been pretty solid right from the start.”

Last Lap

Texas Motor Speedway’s “No Limits” Wild Asphalt Circus theme will be on full display during the “No Limits” Garage Party presented by WinStar World Casino on Sunday prior to the AAA Texas 500. The LiftMaster Garage will turn into a carnival atmosphere complete with a fun house, bumper cars and drop tower ride, along with a sideshow tent and motorcycle riders racing in the fire-engulfed Globe of Death. The event will be highlighted by a 70-foot dive by seven-time, high-dive world-record holder Dana Kunze. The “No Limits” Garage Party presented by WinStar World Casino begins at 9:30 a.m. and is available to all PSL, season ticket and AAA Texas 500 Weekend 4-Pack holders. … Qualifying second through fifth may be the key to winning at Texas Motor Speedway. In the track’s 23 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, 13 times has the winner come from the second, third, fourth or fifth position, including the three previous winners. … Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are looking to become the first drivers to have won a race in all three of NASCAR’s national series at Texas Motor Speedway with a victory in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500. Harvick has four wins in Nationwide Series competition, along with a truck series victory he earned during last year’s WinStar World Casino 350. Busch has tallied five Nationwide Series wins – the most among any driver – along with two truck series victories.

 

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