Between them, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have won the last four races in the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
It’s no surprise then to see them sitting atop the points standings, where the biggest competition remaining in each driver’s hunt for the championship appears to be the other.
Yet a glimmer of hope remains for the other contenders. Neither Gordon nor Johnson has won a Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Dickies 500.
In 13 career starts at Texas, Gordon has five top-five and six top-10 finishes, with a best finish of second in 2002. Texas and Homestead-Miami Speedway are the only tracks on the current Cup schedule where Gordon has yet to win. In comparison, Johnson has three top-five and six top-10 finishes in his eight starts, with a best finish of second in this race a year ago.
So, while Texas could easily become the site of each driver’s third win in the Chase. It’s just as possible either – or both – could stumble and open the door for Clint Bowyer, the third-place driver in points. The nine points separating Gordon and Johnson is the closest margin with three races to go since the Chase’s 2004 inception.
Johnson, especially, has had less than stellar results at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, the final three races of the season.
“The consistency hasn’t been there, that’s for sure. At Phoenix, it’s been hit or miss. I tell myself we can go back there and run well and try to get the right mindset about Phoenix,” Johnson said.
“At Texas, we’ve been running better there every time we come back. This past spring we were really strong and had an engine problem.
“Homestead is Homestead for us. It really hasn’t been an earth-shattering performance there for us. I recognize that, but I also know the game and the situation I’m dealing with and that is that Homestead isn’t the best track for Jeff (Gordon).
“It’s more about outrunning the No. 07 (Bowyer) and the No. 24 (Gordon) than it is about victories.”
That’s true of Gordon as well. The four-time series champion has just one career victory at the three remaining tracks on the schedule.
“I think it’s going to come down to one of us having problems more than anything else, and that’s the thing that we’re trying to avoid,” Gordon said. “You know, there are a lot of ways to lose this championship, and that’s what we want to make sure that we don’t do.
“We don’t, you know, want to be focused so much on finishing seventh and then winning and saying, ‘We’ve got to win, we’ve got to win, we’ve got to win’ and then we make a mistake or crash or have a problem and just give it away.”
Gordon has showed marked improvement at Texas recently, which could bode well in his effort to secure his first win at the track. Gordon led a race-high 173 laps at Texas in the spring and finished fourth.
“We had a strong run at Texas this spring and I really want to add a win at Texas to my list of accomplishments,” he said. “I hope more than anything that we can seal off our 2007 season with a championship.
“It would be just one of those dream years that I don’t think I could ever touch again; even better than 1998 and the 13 wins in the championship.”
Johnson has no problem battling his teammate for the championship. He just doesn’t want the list of contenders to widen.
“Just so we don’t end up in a situation where it’s a three guy race,” Johnson said. “I know the fans would love it to be a three, five, six-guy race come Homestead. But for us, Hendrick Motorsports would like to keep it a two car race.”