Matt Kenseth has reason to be confident heading into the stretch run of the Chase.With just three stops remaining on the Sprint Cup schedule, the top two drivers in the standings, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, have earned the same number of points, with Kenseth ahead on the tiebreaker (most wins this season).
It’s just the second time there has been a tie atop the standings with three or fewer races remaining. The only other time was the final 2011 standings, where Tony Stewart won the championship over Carl Edwards thanks to his 5-1 advantage in wins.
Sunday, the Chase visits the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway (ESPN, 2 ET), with both drivers looking to gain an edge down the stretch.
Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson
In Chase Races at Texas
By career numbers, this looks to be a toss-up. Kenseth has a narrow edge on Johnson in average finish at the track, 8.5 to 9.1, with each having two wins there.
But looking specifically at the eight Chase races at the track tells a different story. In those races, Kenseth’s average finish is more than five spots higher. Although Johnson won this race last year, Kenseth is coming off four straight top-five finishes in Chase races at Texas.
This is the 10th race this season to be held on a mile-and-a-half track, and Kenseth has won four of the first nine, with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch winning two of the others.
In fact, Kenseth has finished ahead of Johnson in seven of the nine 1.5-mile track races this season. However, one of two where Johnson beat the No. 20 team was at Texas earlier this season.
Johnson and the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization has yet to win a race on a 1.5-mile track this season, which is surprising, because no driver in NASCAR Cup Series history has won more often on 1.5-mile tracks than Johnson (17 wins).
Best Avg Finish on 1.5-Mile Tracks
2013 NSCS Season
But it’s not like Johnson has been a slouch on these tracks in 2013. No driver has run more fastest laps on those track this season, and he’s one of three drivers to average better than a 10th-place finish in the first nine races.
But it’s important to note not all 1.5-mile tracks are created equal. ESPN NASCAR analyst Ricky Craven says to look at Atlanta Motor Speedway for a Texas comparison.
“The primary similarity is the racing surface and the way the track wears tires, which encourages the drivers to move up the racetrack in the turns," Craven said. "Moving up the racetrack helps preserve the tires.”
Earlier this season, Johnson finished 28th at Atlanta, statistically putting up one of his worst races of the season after being involved in an early wreck and spinning without contact later in the race.
Johnson was only the fastest driver on three laps during the race, tying him for 16th-most in the field. By comparison, Kenseth was the fastest driver on 26 laps, the third-highest total in the field despite a 12th-place finish.