Johnson could make history with seventh title |

Johnson could make history with seventh title

Roger Diez

Racing fans may well see history made this year. The stage is set for Sprint Cup driver Jimmie Johnson to tie NASCAR legends Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with seven championships. Johnson won his first six titles prior to NASCAR’s institution of an elimination style format for its championship Chase, but he qualified for the finale at Homestead in convincing fashion Sunday. Plagued by problems in the race, including contact with Denny Hamlin and a fuel issue under a lengthy caution, Johnson scored his ninth Martinsville victory, tying him for that honor with friend and mentor Jeff Gordon. With just two more races to set the field for Homestead’s championship race, who else will join Johnson in the final four?

After a disastrous day at Martinsville where a 36th place finish netted him only five points, Carl Edwards must win at either Texas or Phoenix to make the final cut. Edwards has won at Texas twice, but the last time was eight years ago, in 2008. He also has two wins at Phoenix, most recently in 2013, so that may be his best chance. Kurt Busch is also in a poor position to transfer, without a win and scoring only 19 points with a 22nd place finish at Martinsville. Kevin Harvick is also below the cutoff line after Martinsville with only 21 points scored, and has never won at Texas. However, Harvick is by far the most successful driver at Phoenix in the last half-dozen years, and is the heavy favorite to score the win there in two weeks. With Johnson in the final with his Martinsville victory, three drivers are currently in contention on points. They are Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, tied with 4039 each, and Kyle Busch with 4037. Joey Logano is only four points behind Busch with 4033.

So who has the edge at Texas Motor Speedway? Well, Johnson could easily score two victories in this round, as Texas is his playground. He’s won there six times, including three of the last four races and four of the last six. The most recent Texas winner was Kyle Busch this past April (he also won in April 2013). Other Texas winners among Chase contenders are Logano (April 2013), Kenseth (April 2011), Denny Hamlin (both 2010 races), and Kurt Busch (November 2009), in addition to Edwards’ pair of 2008 victories.

This weekend at Texas it’s a triple-header with all three of NASCAR’s top series in action. The Camping World Truck series ran Friday, and the results should be available elsewhere on the sports pages. The Xfinity series takes to the track this afternoon. No Xfinity drivers are locked in since Kyle Busch won in Kansas. Elliott Sadler, Daniel Suarez, Blake Koch, and Justin Allgaier are the top four in points heading into today’s Texas race. Erik Jones and Allgaier are tied in points, while Ryan Reed is only two points behind them. Brendan Gaughan and Darrell Wallace Jr. will each need a win to advance.

Lewis Hamilton posted yet another victory from the pole at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez last Sunday. However, teammate Nico Rosberg’s second place finish meant Hamilton is still shy of the points he needs to secure his fourth world driving championship. But although the two Mercedes had a trouble-free run to the checker, there was lots of drama behind them. Nineteen year old phenomenon Max Verstappen is making no friends among the veterans of the sport, and this time raised the ire of four-time champion Sebastian Vettel. At the end of the race Verstappen was penalized five seconds for his antics, and Vettel ascended the third step on the podium. Although NASCAR-style retaliation in’t advised with the more fragile open-wheel machines of F1, I’m sure Vettel thought about it.