Who Has the Upper Hand in Jimmie Johnson-Matt Kenseth Duel for 2013 Chase Title?

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2013

MARTINSVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 27:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, leads Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger at Martinsville Speedway on October 27, 2013 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

With three races remaining in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup and Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth tied for the points lead, this is shaping up to be a battle of thoroughbreds.

Even though Martinsville has been one of his worst racetracks, Kenseth did what he had to do Sunday, finishing second and leading 202 of the event's 500 laps. If he was going to lose to anyone, it's better to have lost to winner Jeff Gordon than Johnson, who finished fifth.

And that leaves us with the potential for one heck of a battle in the last three races of the season.

I can't help but feel a bit of déjà vu, too.

Two years ago, when Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards engaged in one of the greatest championship battles the sport has ever seen, I told myself that we'd never see the kind of close finishes and tight racing that we saw between those two.

In fact, Stewart and Edwards ended the season tied in the final points, the closest finish in NASCAR history. The sanctioning body had to resort to the first tiebreaker—total wins—to determine who would ultimately be the champion.

And with Stewart having five wins to Edwards' one, it was no contest: Stewart won his third career Cup crown, depriving Edwards of his first.

If only Edwards would have been able to earn just one more point during the Chase, history would have gone in another direction.

Something tells me we're going to see that same kind of back-and-forth battle between Johnson and Kenseth the rest of the way here, and the title may not be decided until the final lap of the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Oh, and just for the record, unless Johnson wins two of the remaining three races, Kenseth would earn his second career Cup championship if the Chase ultimately comes down to the same kind of tiebreaker as in 2011, namely, total wins (Kenseth leads Johnson seven to five heading into Sunday's race at Texas).

Sure, Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are still mathematically in the running for the championship.

But reality tells otherwise.

Gordon came into Sunday's race 36 points behind Johnson and was only able to pick up eight points with his Martinsville win, moving from fifth to third in the rankings.

Even if Gordon were to win the last three races as well, if Johnson and Kenseth continue to hold serve and stay at the top of the standings, Gordon would still ultimately fall short in his quest for his fifth career Cup championship.

So who has the upper hand in the next three races, Johnson or Kenseth?

From a career wins standpoint, it's Johnson. At the three remaining tracks—Texas, Phoenix and Homestead—Johnson has six career wins to four for Kenseth.

(And for the record once again, Gordon has four wins as well at the final three tracks, while Harvick has three and Busch two.)

If past history is any indication, Kenseth would appear to have a slight edge over Johnson at Texas.

In 22 career starts at the 1.5-mile track, Kenseth has two wins, 12 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes.

In 20 career starts at TMS, Johnson also has two wins, nine top-fives and 15 top-10s.

Ergo, if Kenseth can manage to hold off Johnson and end up with a better finish Sunday, give him a slight edge going into the final two races.

But at Phoenix, the numbers definitely favor Johnson: four wins, 13 top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 20 starts.

Kenseth, meanwhile, has just one win, five top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 22 starts at Phoenix.

Which makes me believe that this battle will not be decided until Homestead, where Kenseth has one win to none for Johnson, but Johnson has slightly more top-five (four to three) and top-10 (seven to five) finishes than Kenseth.

Anyone else feel like we're kind of starting to watch a repeat of the battle Stewart and Edwards did two years ago?

All the elements sure seem to be there; only the lead actors are different.


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