NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

 
         === Can Keselowski catch Johnson in the Chase at Phoenix? ===
 
 Philadelphia,  PA (Sports  Network) -  Jimmie Johnson  could take  a big  step
 forward  in winning  his sixth Sprint Cup Series title this weekend at Phoenix
 International Raceway.
 
 Johnson  enters  the  penultimate  race  in  the  Chase  for  the  Sprint  Cup
 championship  with a  seven-point lead over Brad Keselowski. Third-place Clint
 Bowyer is a distant 36 points behind.
 
 Just  two drivers in the Chase -- Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- have
 been mathematically eliminated from championship contention. Any driver who is
 49  points  or more behind the  leader after Phoenix  will be out of the title
 hunt.
 
 It  is  possible but  very unlikely  that Johnson could  clinch the Sprint Cup
 title  at Phoenix. Johnson must out-point Keselowski by 41 if he wins the race
 and 42 if he doesn't win. He must also net an additional 12 points on Bowyer.
 
 Johnson  has won the last two races -- Martinsville and Texas. He won the pole
 position and led the most laps in each of those events as well. If Johnson led
 the  most  laps and  won at Phoenix,  he would clinch  the title if Keselowski
 finished  37th  or worse and  Bowyer eighth  or worse, with neither challenger
 scoring a bonus point for leading a lap. Keselowski's worst finish this season
 is 36th, which came in April at Texas.
 
 After winning Martinsville, Johnson reclaimed the lead in the Chase standings,
 as he held only a two-point advantage over Keselowski. Johnson added five more
 points to his lead after a hard-fought battle with Keselowski at Texas.
 
 "There  is not going to be any breathing easy until the end," Johnson said. "I
 was two points, and now we've got seven. But there is a lot of racing left."
 
 Johnson  holds the  record for most wins at Phoenix with four, including three
 in the Chase. His most recent victory there came in Nov. 2009, a race which he
 led  238 of 312  laps. Johnson also holds the record for most laps led at this
 one-mile oval with 931. He has an average finish of 5.3 in his 18 races there.
 
 When  the series most recently competed at Phoenix in March, Keselowski scored
 his  first  top-10 finish  there with a  fifth-place run. Keselowski's average
 finish  in  six races at this  track is 22.17. He's  led just a total of seven
 laps  there --  four in last year's  fall race and three in this year's spring
 event.
 
 "I  look at  Phoenix, and I think we  had a great run in the spring, finishing
 fifth,"  Keselowski said. "I  felt like that was when we weren't even quite as
 strong  as  we are now  as a team.  Now that we're  stronger, I feel like it's
 realistic  for us  to go to the next  two races and win, and that's what we're
 going to try and do. That's the goal I have."
 
 In  each of  the last  two years,  the driver  ranked second  in Chase  points
 entering  the second-to-last  race overtook the leader in the season-finale at
 Homestead.  In 2010,  Johnson  trailed  Denny Hamlin  in  points heading  into
 Phoenix  but went  on to  win  his record-extending  fifth consecutive  series
 championship.  Tony  Stewart caught Carl Edwards  during the last two races in
 last year's Chase, beating Edwards for the title in a points tiebreaker.
 
 "I'd  say it's a heads-up match going into Phoenix and probably the same going
 into  Homestead," Keselowski said after his second-place finish last Sunday at
 Texas. "We just have to win the heads-up matches."
 
 Sunday's  race will  be the third time  the series runs at this track since it
 was  repaved and reconfigured in mid-2011. When the series competed at Phoenix
 one year ago, there were a lot of unknowns heading into the event. Since then,
 drivers have become quite familiar with the track's new surface.
 
 "The  track  has had some time  to age, and I  hope it's lost some grip, so we
 will  definitely move out," Johnson said. "They spent a lot of time and effort
 to  try to create extra lanes of racing through their modeling. I hope they're
 right.  The  first time there,  it was  pretty narrow, and  I hope that, as it
 ages, we can get a wider racetrack and really put on a good show."
 
 Kasey  Kahne won at  Phoenix one year ago, and Denny Hamlin took the checkered
 flag there earlier this year.
 
 Forty-four  teams are  on the  preliminary entry  list for  the AdvoCare  500.
 Danica Patrick is scheduled to make her 10th and final Sprint Cup start of the
 season at Phoenix.
 
 Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Nov. 11. Race: AdvoCare 500. Site:
 Phoenix International Raceway. Track: one-mile oval. Start time: 3 p.m.(ET).
 Laps: 312. Miles: 312. 2011 Winner: Kasey Kahne. Television: ESPN. Radio:
 Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.
 
 11/08 15:56:03 ET

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