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Thursday, November 6, 2008
Updated: November 14, 9:57 AM ET
As Chases go, 2008 edition a bit of a yawner -- so far

By John Schwarb
Special to

AP Photo/Jim R. Bounds

A familiar sight in 2008: Chad Knaus, right, congratulating Jimmie Johnson after a Cup victory.

Start Your Engines

You know the powers that be in Daytona Beach, Fla., hoped for a rally from someone, anyone, to make Jimmie Johnson sweat a little in his drive for a third consecutive Sprint Cup title.

Carl Edwards has been the one to put together the push, winning the past two events to move from fourth to second in the standings and cut Johnson's margin over second place from 149 to 106 points with two races to go starting Sunday at Phoenix (3:45 p.m. ET, ABC).

That doesn't automatically make this Chase the most compelling on record, however. In fact, it's the worst in terms of first-to-second margin with two races to go.

Last season, Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon staged a great Chase battle, and they went to Phoenix separated by 30 points. Johnson had an even smaller gap in 2006, leading Matt Kenseth by 17 points with two races remaining. There were also three more drivers (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick) still in the conversation at 78 to 105 points back.

A similar scrum marked the first Chase in 2004, with Kurt Busch leading Gordon by 41 points, Junior by 47 and Johnson by 48 going into Darlington, S.C., then the second-to-last Chase race. In 2005, Tony Stewart led with two to go, but Johnson and Edwards were much alive at 38 and 77 points back.

Simply put, this year's fight is not a classic. It could be, in a one-race shootout at Homestead-Miami, but it's not there yet.

"There are two races left. I have known all along we were going to have to fight every week for this thing. We had a nice, big points lead and we still have a great points lead, but in racing anything can happen and usually does," Johnson said. "[Texas] didn't go our way; it went the way the No. 99 needed."

When the Roush Fenway Ford won and Johnson finished 15th on the fast 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth, Edwards got a 77-point bump in the standings that now makes him believe he can steal a Cup. But he has to continue the big gains at Phoenix, a place where Johnson has never been junk.

The No. 48 Chevy has been the best in Sprint Cup over the past 10 races at the flat mile oval, with two wins (April and last year's Chase race), two seconds and an average finish of 6.0. The two blemishes on Johnson's Phoenix résumé are two 15ths, hardly awful.

Edwards has been good at times, and off days have been way off. He finished fourth in the spring race but was second-to-last in the 2007 Chase race after blowing an engine. He led 87 laps that day, his only laps led at Phoenix in eight career starts.

"Phoenix is, I think, one of the most fun racetracks we go to. A driver can really make a difference there," Edwards said. "It sometimes comes down to calls by crew chiefs and stuff like that. So I really feel like that racetrack will be good."

What's good for Edwards is the No. 99 in front with the No. 48 nowhere in sight, as he needs another Texas-sized points gain. A side-by-side duel with Johnson this weekend is exactly what Edwards can't afford to have. Johnson, of course, would love it. He has no interest in this Chase getting too interesting with two to go.

Rocket Man

Carl Edwards: Not all Chase wins feel great. Two weeks ago at Atlanta, Edwards' excitement was tempered in Victory Lane upon learning Jimmie Johnson fought back for second.

Texas, that was more like it. Lead two-thirds of the laps in the Roush Fenway No. 99 Ford and have the No. 48 come home 15th.

"I feel satisfied, you know, that we did take a chunk out of that lead," Edwards said. "Jack [Roush] and I had talked about it. I think it averaged out to where if we won them all and [Johnson] finished ninth these last three race, we could beat him."

Long, long way to go for that scenario to come true, but it started perfectly.

John Schwarb is a motorsports contributor to He can be reached at


You Gotta See This

Slippery Slope


Denny Hamlin: A mini-run of respectability took a step backward for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11, which finished 17th at Texas after two top-5s at Martinsville and Atlanta. Don't discount that -- only half the Chasers (Biffle, Burton, Edwards, Johnson and Kenseth) have had consecutive top-5s during the playoff races. But one slipup and Hamlin is back to 12th in points again, though only three marks out of 10th.

"It's not just enough to make the Chase anymore," Hamlin said. "For us to be satisfied, we feel like we need to be more of a contender, I guess you could say."

(Hamlin offered those thoughts this week on a NASCAR teleconference, as apparently the sanctioning body feels the battle at the rear of the Chase standings with two races to go is riveting enough for the media. But we digress.)

Going The Wrong Way


David Gilliland: Here's the No. 38 Yates Ford, on his tussles with Juan Pablo Montoya at Texas: "It's a shame we've got some tore-up race cars and we got parked, but I got up in front of him -- my spotter said I was clear -- and I kind of slid up in front of him, and he jacked my rear wheels off the ground going down the back straightaway and then got into me again going into Turn 1 and 2 and jacked me up way up the track. I was trying to let him go and got a good run off the corner and just kind of misjudged it coming down across him. I was gonna let him go, so I feel real bad for those guys."

If you believe that, we've got beach-front property at Bristol to sell. How Gilliland is being allowed to race at Phoenix this week is a mystery.

Showing Some Love For …


Martin Truex Jr.: Dale Earnhardt Inc. will take every shred of good news it can find these days, like a second-place qualifying effort and eighth-place finish at Texas for the flagship No. 1 Chevrolet. It was his third top-10 and fifth top-15 in eight Chase races.

"We have had good starts here before but haven't always been able to put together a good finish," said Truex, 15th in points. "We struggled with the car the first two-thirds of the race, then Bono [crew chief Kevin Manion] made a great call late when we took two tires and went a round up on the track bar. It got us a lot of track position on pit road. We were able to able to hold it for the rest of the race."