Pit stops will play a crucial role in outcome at Texas

As you all know, Jimmie Johnson won last weekend’s race at Martinsville. With this weekend’s event at Texas Motor Speedway, here is something you may not know. Jimmie has also won the last four consecutive Fall races at Texas. So obviously, Jimmie is the hands-down favorite.

That doesn’t mean the other seven Chase drivers should fold up their tent this weekend, though.

Texas Motor Speedway has been a great track in the past for the other Chase drivers. In fact, of the remaining seven Chase drivers, it’s Kevin Harvick who is the only one who has never won there.

Most of those seven have multiple wins there. Jimmie again leads in that column but Carl Edwards is close with three wins of his own.

Setting Kevin aside for a second, those other seven Chase drivers have won a combined 17 races at Texas plus even taking it a step further, of the last eight races run at Texas, all eight have been won by one of these seven remaining Chase drivers.

This is our last 500-mile race of the year. When you look at who is deep in trouble, it clearly is Carl Edwards.

Granted there are still two races left in this round, but Carl is in a pretty big hole already and nearing a must-win type of situation. I mean the math just doesn’t lie. Even if he were to click off two top 5 finishes this weekend and then next weekend at Phoenix, it still is going to be really, really close.

Kurt Busch is another that I think is in trouble. I don’t say that because of the fact he is 18 points behind with only two races to go. I say it because they simply aren’t running that well right now.

They didn’t run that well at Martinsville and if you go back and look, it seems they have struggled since mid-season.

You can never take your eye off Kevin Harvick and I know everyone is probably already sick of hearing “Phoenix is coming next” which as we know Kevin just dominates at.

The reality is there is going to be a point when Kevin doesn’t win at Phoenix. The law of averages is simply going to catch up to him and the No. 4 car. Is it in two weeks?

We obviously won’t know until the checkered flag falls next weekend there.

So as we go into Texas Sunday and you look at the bottom three Chase drivers of Carl, Kurt, and Kevin, they truly are flirting with their 2016 championship dreams evaporating.

It’s really not because of how many points they are behind, it’s more about who they have to overcome.

I talked to Jimmie Johnson after he won Sunday at Martinsville and mentioned that this is shaping up to be a shootout of Jimmie versus Joe Gibbs Racing, since Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Kyle Busch are second through fourth in the points.

I do wonder though if Joey Logano could be the sleeper that’s laying in the tall grass only six points back that could be the spoiler in Joe Gibbs Racing’s plans. We know Joey runs well at Texas so be sure to keep an eye on that No. 22 Team Penske Ford Sunday.

What can you look for on Sunday?

Texas offers multiple grooves for the drivers so you’ll see drivers hugging the bottom while at the same time see drivers running up near the wall. We also know we’ll have some long green flag runs on Sunday and the other thing is it’s hard to go a full fuel run on a set of tires.

Where I’m going with all this is when we get into those green flag stops, that I promise you we’ll have, is someone short-pitting. Once that happens, watch out because you will see an epidemic break out of pit stops. You simply can’t stay out there and give up two or three seconds a lap to the driver on new tires and a full tank of fuel.

While we are at it, get ready for the unexpected to happen on pit road.

Yes, pit road will be a player again in the outcome of the race. Who of the eight Chase drivers will have a speeding penalty? Which of the eight Chase pit crews will have an uncontrolled tire get away from them, or a pit gun or jack failure?

Incidents on pit road continue to haunt teams every week and I expect nothing different on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A great example is what happened to Kevin Harvick last Sunday at Martinsville. He had worked his way from 20th position to fourth, but after he got busted for speeding on pit road, he just never was able to recover.

So, going back to what I led off with in this column, Jimmie Johnson is coming off a huge emotional win at Martinsville. He’s punched his ticket to possibly make history at Homestead joining Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. with seven championships.

As if that weren’t enough positive momentum, as mentioned earlier, he’s won the last four fall races at Texas. So I don’t think he has any plans on giving up the keys to unlocking Victory Lane to anyone else come Sunday.