SB Nation's NASCAR guru, Jeff Gluck, pays us a visit here at SB Nation Dallas, and helps preview this weekend's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
With just three races left in the NASCAR season, who are the drivers with legitimate chances to win the Sprint Cup?
Gluck: So basically, the Chase (NASCAR's 10-race playoff) is down to two dudes: Five-time champ Jimmie Johnson and geeky-looking badass Brad Keselowski. Johnson just took over the points lead last weekend by winning at Martinsville, and he's up by two points (which is the equivalent of two positions on the track) heading to Texas.
Does the track at Texas Motor Speedway favor any particular drivers? If so, why?
Gluck: In NASCAR, there are four main types of tracks: Short tracks (under 1 mile), superspeedways (Talladega and Daytona, where you see the huge packs and crashes), road courses (the twisty ones with both left and right turns) and intermediate tracks. Texas is an intermediate track, a 1.5-mile oval similar to many others on the circuit.
There are so many 1.5-mile tracks in NASCAR that if you're good on them, you'll probably be a championship contender (they're kind of like the cookie cutter baseball stadiums of the 1970s). Anyway, Johnson and Keselowski are both good there, but really any of the 12 Chase drivers is a threat to win. Basically, being good at intermediate tracks is probably how they made the Chase in the first place.
What exactly makes Jimmie Johnson so dominant? He's in prime position to win yet another Sprint Cup, and it's a dominant run in sports perhaps only paralleled recently by Roger Federer.
Gluck: First of all, it just so happens the 10 tracks in the Chase are 10 of Johnson's best tracks. So that helps. But he's a meticulous thinker who runs races in his head and is more prepared than most other drivers by the time they show up to race. To go with that, he has the smartest crew chief in NASCAR and his team is seemingly able to overcome any adversity. He's driving the best cars with all the latest innovations - and he's good enough to win with them. It's a pretty tough combination to beat.
With all the attention likely focused on Johnson and Keselowski, who are darkhorse drivers to pay attention to this weekend?
Gluck: All three of Roush Fenway Racing's drivers - Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards - have won at Texas before - and Biffle just won the April race at the track. In addition, Denny Hamlin - who was in championship contention until an electrical problem took him out last weekend at Martinsville - is also a big threat to win on Sunday.
Can't let you go without a prediction. Who wins the AAA Texas 500, and who ultimately wins the 2012 Sprint Cup?
Gluck: I've been picking Johnson to the championship since the start of the season, so I'm not going to change now. He'll get a top-five finish and extend his points lead by a few more over Keselowski, but it'll be Kenseth who picks up another win for Roush before he leaves for Joe Gibbs Racing after the season.