Statistically speaking, Jimmie Johnson vs. Matt Kenseth at Phoenix International Raceway appears anything but a fair fight.
Johnson far and away owns the best resume in victories, top fives and 10s, laps led and – most important – average finish, 6.4 to Kenseth’s 17.2. Kenseth’s only victory – three fewer than Johnson – came over a decade ago, in 2002. He hasn’t posted a top five at the one-mile track since 2007.
The record book, however, is just that. The past won’t necessarily be repeated in the present – as Johnson found out two weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway, where Kenseth out-raced and out-pointed the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, who enjoyed an even greater statistical edge.
Riding a streak of four Phoenix finishes outside the top 10, Kenseth qualified ninth and finished seventh in March in his second race with the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team.
“We had a really great car there in the spring,” said the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. “We were really good at Loudon (his second Chase victory) and were really good at Martinsville so I’m looking forward to getting there.
“I hope we can go there and run up front and have a car to win.”
Kenseth may be disappointed that he enters the season’s penultimate event facing a deficit of seven points. But because it’s effectively a two-driver and two-team race, he still can control the outcome.
“I wish I was seven points ahead but at the end of the day it’s in our hands,” said Kenseth. “If you win the last two races … the math works out to where you can still win (the championship).
“The strategy is really easy. As the 48 (Johnson) has proven time and time again, if you’re going to win a championship and win races, you have to go through him. We’ve had the same strategy since the first race of the Chase to the last one. You go try to qualify the best you can, lead as many laps as you can and try to win the race. We’re right in it.”