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With three races left in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Jimmie Johnson once again finds himself in familiar territory – atop the points standings. However, Texas, where everything is bigger except the points lead, could leave its own brand on the championship race.
As the racing circuit heads to the Lone Star State for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the other 42 drivers in the field have a “big” order to fill – find a way to stop Johnson and the No. 48 team.
Johnson’s win in this past Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway gave him a record 21 career victories in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint CupTM since the post-season format was created in 2004. Tony Stewart is second with 11.
Even though the win came later than any of Johnson’s other first Chase wins during a season, he is the only driver to post a victory in each of the nine Chases.
Johnson has a little bit of history on his side, too, that bodes well for him and his crew.
In the eight previous Chases, five of the years the driver leading the standings with three races left has held on to win the championship – Kurt Busch in 2004, Stewart in 2005 and Johnson in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
In 2006 and 2007, Johnson captured his first two championships by outperforming and passing eventual runners-up Matt Kenseth (2006) and Jeff Gordon (2007) in the last three races of the season.
Last year, Carl Edwards went into Texas with an eight-point lead over Stewart. However, by the end of the season, Edwards and Stewart were tied with the latter claiming the championship on a tiebreaker.
Johnson, who currently has a two-point advantage over Brad Keselowski in the standings, has found success at the 1.5-mile Texas track with his only victory coming during the 2007 Chase. In addition, he has eight top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 18 starts.
The Texas win was Johnson’s third consecutive win during the 2007 Chase. He went on to win the following week at Phoenix to extend the streak.
Johnson’s 9.7 average finishing position at Texas is second only to Kenseth’s 8.6.
After starting 10th in April’s Samsung Mobile 500 at the track, Johnson led 156 laps and finished second to Greg Biffle. In last year’s AAA Texas 500, Johnson led one lap and finished 14th.