By Jordan Dodson and Sharon Burton
With two races remaining in the Chase, it is coming down to two drivers – Johnson and Keselowski. Sunday’s race was a perfect example of why Keselowski and Johnson are the two run-away drivers battling down to the wire at Homestead.
Kasey Kahne went into Texas with optimism for a good finish to gain points on the Chase leaders, but that changed in the closing laps of the AAA Texas 500. Kahne had a run in with Jeff Gordon that led to a flat left rear tire and a car bouncing off the wall. Kahne eventually crossed the finish line in 25th place and is now 58-points behind the points leader. Kahne’s average Chase finish was 7.14 before the race and after his disappointing finish, he leaves Texas with a Chase average finish of 9.38. In the last two races of the season, Kahne will be going all out for wins, especially as the defending winner of the fall Phoenix race last year.
Clint Bowyer managed to finish sixth Sunday, giving him a Chase average finish of 8th, but finds himself 37-points behind the points leader, Johnson. Barring major issues from Johnson and Keselowski, Bowyer is barely in the championship hunt with nothing to lose by going for wins in the last two races at Phoenix and Homestead.
And then, there were two.
Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski had an instant classic battle in the closing laps on Sunday, as they bumped and banged, racing for the lead. On a restart with nine to go, Keselowski and Johnson found themselves battling hard for the win. On the previous pit stop, Keselowski took just two fresh tires while Johnson took four fresh tires. Although, common sense says Johnson would take the win, it was with a tight battle from his toughest competition, Brad Keselowski, before he crossed the finish line in first place.
Keselowski and Johnson ran neck and neck with eight to go. Keselowski kept his ground, even with a run in with Johnson on the frontstretch, and took the lead by running away from Johnson, heading for a victory.
But Johnson got a second chance to pass Keselowski with five to go, when the final caution of the day, once again, closed the gap between the two competitors. Mark Martin brought out the yellow-flag caution after a spin on the frontstretch and set up the first attempt at a green-white-cherckered flag run and a round-two restart between Keselowski and Johnson.
Keselowski and Johnson kept even until Johnson took the lead off turn two and didn’t look back to take the win, while Brad Keselowski finished second in an epic battle between the top-two championship Chasers, at the top of their game.
Johnson left Texas with a Chase average finish of 4.88 – the first time, since the Chase began at Chicagoland that his average is better than Keselowski’s – at 5.25. Johnson also increased his lead to seven points over Keselowski. With only two races remaining, the Chase is setup to be a hard fought battle down to the wire and both drivers know they cannot make any mistakes as they battle each other to win the Sprint Cup title.
Johnson said after his win, “The gloves are off and now it’s bear knuckle fighting.”
But Keselowski knows, his team is not to be taken for granted and won’t lay down to the five-time champion. “If we keep racing like this, we won’t be beat,” Keselowski promised.
Two drivers and two races stand between finding out who will win the illusive championship with a coveted trophy in their hands at victory lane in Homestead. For the second year in a row, the Chase for the Sprint Cup is shaping up to be another close battle between two elite drivers. If last year’s Chase is indicative of what to expect in the final two races, then fans are in for another epic points battle.
Pull those belts tight, because it’s going to be a battle to the end.