Johnson back in familiar spot in Chase bid

Jeff Birchfield • Nov 5, 2013 at 7:38 PM

Jimmie Johnson has the best statistics of any NASCAR driver at Phoenix International Raceway, but the oddly shaped 1-miler was the track that wrecked his championship hopes a season ago.Seemingly on his way to a sixth Sprint Cup title, Johnson blew a right front tire and hit the wall on lap 236 of last year’s AdvoCare 500. After back-to-back wins at Martinsville and Texas, Johnson entered the race seven points ahead of Brad Keselowski. He left Phoenix with a 32nd-place finish and trailing Keselowski by 20 points.One year later, Johnson is again seven points ahead of the second-place driver entering Phoenix. This time around, it’s Matt Kenseth instead of Keselowski in the runner-up spot.While Kenseth hopes for a repeat of Johnson’s misfortune, odds are it’s unlikely.Johnson leads all drivers with four Phoenix wins, as well as 13 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 20 races. In the series’ last visit to the track, in March, Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet finished second to the No. 99 Ford of Carl Edwards.Kenseth was seventh at that race, his ninth top-10 finish in 22 Phoenix races. However, the driver of the No. 20 Toyota has been inconsistent on the Arizona track.He has one win and five top-five finishes at Phoenix, but has finished off the lead lap eight times. His average finish of 17.2 is well behind the 6.4 average finish of Johnson.Kevin Harvick, the third-place driver in the standings and 40 points out of the lead, could make up ground this Sunday. He is the defending race champion and a three-time winner at Phoenix overall. However, there is the issue of hard feelings between Harvick and many at Richard Childress Racing following the driver’s dust-up with Ty Dillon in the Martinsville Truck Series race. Afterwards, Harvick made deragatory comments about Dillon and his older brother, Austin, having everything handed to them. That didn’t sit well with Childress, who is the Dillons’ grandfather as well as the team owner.To Harvick’s and the team’s credit, they haven’t let the squabble affect their performance. They have finishes of sixth and eighth in the last two races.As for the Dillon boys, they’ve also kept on trucking.Ty Dillon won last Friday night’s Truck Series race at Texas, and made light of the situation, posing with a giant silver spoon in victory lane. Meanwhile, Austin Dillon heads to Phoenix with a six-point lead in the Nationwide Series standings over Sam Hornish Jr.It could be difficult for Austin Dillon to keep his points lead at Phoenix. Hornish, a three-time Indy Car champion who is looking for his first stock car title, has one win and three top-10 finishes in his last four Phoenix races.However, it would be a mistake to count out Dillon. The driver of the black No. 3 Chevrolet has finishes of fourth, sixth and sixth in his last three Phoenix races.Expected to race full-time in the Sprint Cup Series next season, Dillon would love nothing more than to join Greg Biffle as the only drivers to win both Nationwide and Truck Series championships.———Greeneville driver Allen Johnson still has a mathematical shot at defending his Pro Stock championship heading into this weekend’s NHRA Finals, although the odds certainly aren’t in his favor.Johnson ranks fifth in the Mello Yello point standings, 93 points behind four-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., heading into the season-ending race at Pomona, Calif. Coughlin is Johnson’s teammate, joining the Greeneville-based J&J Racing team at the end of last season. If Coughlin wins the championship, it would mark the first consecutive championships for Dodge since Darrell Alderman won back-to-back titles in 1990-91.While a championship seems unlikely, if Johnson can maintain or better his points position, it would be the third season in a row he’s finished in the top five. It’s the second-best season of Johnson’s 17-year career from a performance standpoint. He has four wins and has made eight final-round appearances. Overall, Johnson has compiled career numbers of 20 wins, 44 final-round appearances and 31 No. 1 qualifying awards.———Hunter Hobbs won three motocross championships in the Thor Mega Series this season.Hobbs, a 17-year-old from Johnson City, won titles in the125cc 2-Stroke Amateur, Schoolboy and Collegeboy Amateur classes. Trey Emert, an 18-year-old from Johnson City, captured the 250C championship. Zach Newberry of Daleville, Va., swept both 450 and 250 Pro titles.

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