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Thursday, October 31, 2013
What to watch: AAA Texas 500

By Richard Durrett

NASCAR's playoffs, the Chase for the Sprint Cup, enters the final three races full of drama. In fact, the Chase has never been this close this late in the season, with Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth tied for the points lead. And there are others -- like Jeff Gordon (27 points behind), Kyle Busch (36 back) and even a few more -- still hopeful of making a comeback and snatching the trophy away.

Let's take a look at a few things to watch this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth (Qualifying takes place Friday, the Nationwide Series runs Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. CT on ESPN is the AAA Texas 500 Sprint Cup Series race):

Top two contenders like Texas: There really isn't a big advantage for Johnson or Kenseth in Texas. Both have run well at TMS.

Kenseth is the career leader at TMS in Sprint Cup races laps led with 772, top-5 finishes with 12 and finishing average at 8.5. He has two wins at the track, including the spring of 2011. He's finished in the top 10 in seven of his eight appearances in the fall race.

Johnson will be defending his victory from 2012 and has two additional wins at the speedway. He also has five runner-ups at TMS, the most by a Cup driver.

Experience counts: Both Johnson and Kenseth have championships on their résumés. But Kenseth's came in 2003, before NASCAR switched to the Chase format. And Johnson has put together one of the most dominating stretches the sport has ever seen, winning five straight titles from 2006 to 2010. He understands this format and what has to be done. So if there's an experience edge, it goes to Johnson.

Don't forget about me: Gordon earned the checkered flag at Martinsville last week, inching him closer to the rear bumper of Johnson and Kenseth. He sits 27 points behind and comes to TMS with confidence. After the final race of the regular season, it didn't appear that Gordon was going to even be in the Chase. But NASCAR gave Gordon a 13th spot when it determined that Michael Waltrip Racing was unfairly trying to influence the outcome of the Richmond race.

Gordon took advantage, finishing in the top 10 in five of the first seven Chase races to make his climb. He's vying for a fifth championship and will do so at a track where he's bounced back from some early disappointments. Gordon ended a 47-race winless streak with a victory at TMS in 2009 and has 11 top-10 finishes in 25 career starts.

Local driver tries to defend championship: James Buescher, the defending NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, is back at TMS (one of the tracks where he learned to race) and hoping to get himself back in championship contention. He sits 51 points behind leader Matt Crafton and has never won at TMS in the Truck Series.