Johnson leads contenders into Phoenix race | NevadaAppeal.com
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Johnson leads contenders into Phoenix race

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal
Nevada Appeal | Nevada Appeal

Despite his record of four wins at Phoenix, NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson must be haunted by recent history.

The last three seasons, the points leader going into Phoenix has not won the championship. And last season, that was Johnson, who suffered suspension failure and finished 32nd at the flat one-mile desert oval. To further deepen the parallel, Johnson had seven points on eventual champion Brad Keselowski at this point in the season, the same margin he now holds over Matt Kenseth. Johnson can perhaps take comfort in the fact that his average Phoenix finish is 6.4 compared to Kenseth’s 17.2. Matt hasn’t scored a top-five finish at Phoenix since 2007 and his only win at the track came in 2002. Johnson, known as “Five-Time”, is going for his sixth title in NASCAR’s top division, which will put him just one championship away from Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, two of the sport’s legends.

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Jeff Gordon’s hopes for a fifth championship were dashed at Texas last Sunday, when an encounter with the wall after a tire failure put him in the garage for a large portion of the race. The only other potential contender for the title, Kevin Harvick, lost a dozen points to the leader at Texas, and at 40 points back, is the only driver with even a long shot to capture the Sprint Cup trophy.

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Could we see a non-chase driver take the win tomorrow at Phoenix? Well, both Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin have some momentum. Keselowski has the third-best finishing record at Phoenix since 2011, and he has something to prove. Hamlin has finished in the top three in the last three races, won at Phoenix in 2012, and has the best average finish there since 2011. And although Kasey Kahne is in the Chase, he is dead last in championship points. It appears that the Hendrick organization has been using Kahne’s car as a research and development platform, with mixed results. However, if they try something new this weekend and it works, Kahne could just find himself in victory lane.

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The Nationwide series championship is also a tight two-way battle, with Sam Hornish Jr. trailing Austin Dillon by a mere six points. Hornish hopes to reverse the trend of the past two seasons, when second-place contender Elliott Sadler had problems at Phoenix, costing him the championship both years. Hornish has added pressure on him, as a win by his Penske Racing Ford this weekend would clinch the manufacturer’s title (known as the Bill France Performance Cup) for Ford.

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In Formula One action, Sebastian Vettel won his seventh consecutive race at Abu Dhabi last weekend, further annoying his rivals. I mean, with the championship already settled, couldn’t he back off a little bit? Just kidding, that is not in the young German’s nature. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see him also win at the US Grand Prix in Texas next Sunday and the season finale at Brazil a week later.

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This is a bit off-topic, but Monday is Veterans Day, and I want to thank all the veterans and active military members for their service. If you want to join in the celebration, there are a number of activities open to the public. The Marine Corps League Silver State Detachment 630 is holding a celebration tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. (1630 hours for you military types) at Mo and Sluggo’s. There will be a cake in honor of the Corps’ 238th birthday, and Marines from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan will be there to share their stories. And on Monday, Virginia City will hold a parade in honor of Veterans Day, starting at 11 a.m. And at 4 p.m. on Monday, there is a free screening of the Vietnam War documentary “Bravo” in Marlette Hall at Western Nevada College. If you can’t attend any of these events, find a vet and thank him or her for your freedom.