Numbers don't favor Johnson or Kenseth
November, 8, 2013
By Matt Willis & Andrew Davis | ESPN.com
Josh Harrelson/Getty ImagesMatt Kenseth (left) and Jimmie Johnson (right) both are looking to defy recent history.
The Sprint Cup schedule has just two stops left this season, and heads to Phoenix Sunday (ESPN, 3 p.m. ET) with two drivers firmly in the mix for the championship, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.
Mixed Fortunes at Phoenix
Last season, Johnson was in the same position he’s in this year, coming off a Texas win and holding a seven-point lead in the standings entering Phoenix.
He’s certainly hoping to avoid the same fate he suffered last year, when he blew a tire at Phoenix and struck the wall, finishing 32nd. Johnson never recovered, and Brad Keselowski went on to claim the championship.
Johnson is the all-time leader in wins, top-5 finishes, laps led and average finish (minimum 10 starts) at Phoenix, but his numbers aren’t nearly as solid there as in his four starts since the track was reconfigured following the 2011 spring event.
Since then, he has a 13th-place average finish, including finishes of 14th and 32nd in the two Chase races. By contrast, he had a streak of 10 straight top 5s at Phoenix prior to the reconfiguration.
What’s more, in each of the last three seasons, the driver leading with two races to go didn’t end up winning the championship, including Johnson himself last year.
Odds Against Kenseth
The remaining schedule does not set up kindly for Kenseth, who sits seven points behind Johnson for the points lead. The final two tracks on the schedule are among the bottom five of tracks for him in terms of average finish.
Although he’s won at Phoenix before, he hasn’t had a top-5 finish there in the last 11 Phoenix races, and has finished behind Johnson in 13 of the last 14 Phoenix events.
Both drivers will need to be cautious in turn four this weekend. Since 2004, there has been at least one accident in turn four every year.
That includes last season, when one of the most infamous accidents in NASCAR history occurred: Jeff Gordon wrecking Clint Bowyer in turn four, ending Bowyer’s chances to win the championship.