COMMENTARY | The 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup heads to Phoenix International Raceway, home of the AdvoCare 500 on Sunday, November 10. Five-time champ Jimmie Johnson leads 2003 champ Matt Kenseth by just seven points going into the next-to-last race in the Chase, but there's just as tight a battle going on behind them for spots three through eight, with six drivers separated by 33 points.
Johnson v. Kenseth - Johnson holds the advantage over Kenseth at Phoenix, with four wins and 16 top 10 finishes in 20 races at the one-mile oval; his average finish is 6.5. Kenseth, on the other hand, has just one win and nine top 10s in 22 races at PIR, with an average finish of 17.2. Kenseth will be getting some extra seat time this weekend, as he'll also be running in Saturday's Nationwide Series race for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kevin Harvick - Currently third in points, 40 back of the leader, Harvick has scored three wins at PIR along with 10 top 10s in 21 races. He's not out of the Chase yet, but any chance he has would only be due to sub-par finishes by Johnson and Kenseth this weekend. Harvick, also running the Nationwide Series race, is the defending race winner of the Phoenix Chase race, and swept the Phoenix races in 2006.
Kyle Busch - Busch is 52 points behind Johnson, and likely will be eliminated this weekend save the aforementioned sub-par finishes by the leaders. He has one win and 10 top 10 finishes in 17 races at PIR, but only managed a 23rd-place finish in the spring race. Like his teammate Kenseth, he'll be doing double-duty for JGR this weekend in Saturday's Nationwide Series race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - In spite of not yet having a win in 2013, Earnhardt Jr. is ranked a surprising fifth - 62 points behind - on the strength of 20 top 10 finishes this season, six of which have come during the Chase. At PIR, he has two wins and nine top 10 finishes in 22 races; in the spring race, he led 47 laps and finished fifth.
Jeff Gordon - Gordon followed up his win at Martinsville with a disappointing 38th-place finish at Texas last weekend, dropping him from third to sixth in points, 69 points back of Johnson. Gordon has two wins and 20 top 10 finishes in 29 races at Phoenix, along with three poles; his most recent win came in the spring race in 2011, and he finished ninth in March.
Clint Bowyer - Also winless this season, Bowyer is also 69 points behind Johnson, but has climbed up in the standings following three straight top 10 finishes. He has six top 10 finishes in 16 races at PIR, including a sixth-place run in March.
Greg Biffle - Biffle, 73 points behind Johnson and ranked eighth, has seven top 10 finishes in 19 races at Phoenix, but finished 17th in March after leading 39 laps. Biffle and many of the other drivers mentioned previously will be knocked out of contention after this weekend, but the battle for the top five will be ongoing through the end of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Sources: "Statistical Advance: Analyzing the AdvoCare 500," NASCAR Media, November 4, 2013
"Storylines: 2013 Phoenix-2," NASCAR Media, November 4, 2013
Paula is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in motorsports. She also covers NASCAR at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.
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