By the numbers: The 2013 Chasers at Texas

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This weekend, the Chase for the Sprint Cup is going to the Circus – “Wild Asphalt Circus,” that is.

The intensity surrounding the championship is sure to build even further at Texas Motor Speedway, as Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson enter the AAA Texas 500 tied for the lead – although Kenseth does hold the tie-breaker, as his seven victories this season trumps Johnson’s five.

Four of Kenseth’s seven wins in 2013 have come on 1.5-mile ovals such as Texas but based on past performance at this track, both himself and Johnson appear evenly matched going in – which could make Kenseth’s runner-up effort this past weekend at Martinsville all the more critical in the end.

However, both Kenseth and Johnson’s greatest challenge this weekend may not be each other.

Kyle Busch’s title hopes are now in serious danger after late-race handling problems at Martinsville caused him to finish 15th. But in the Sprint Cup Series’ first visit this year to Texas back in April, Busch was able to take the lead coming out of the final pit stops and go on to win. Expect him to leave nothing on the table as he tries to erase a 36 point deficit over the final three races.

Ahead of Busch at third and fourth in the championship respectively are Jeff Gordon (-27 points), your winner at Martinsville, and Kevin Harvick (-28 points). They too must position themselves to capitalize on any misfortunes Kenseth and Johnson may have.

As provided weekly by NASCAR, here’s a glimpse at what the 13 Chase contenders have done in their Cup careers at TMS:

Matt Kenseth (Leader – 2,294 points; holds tie-breaker over Jimmie Johnson with 7 wins this year)
· Two wins, 12 Top-5s, 15 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 8.5 in 22 races
· Series-best Average Running Position of 9.3
*Series-best Driver Rating of 106.5
*Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 173.225 mph
*Series-high 4,497 Laps in the Top 15 (79.0%)

Jimmie Johnson (Second – 2,294 points; 5 wins this year)
· Two wins, nine Top-5s, 15 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 9.1 in 20 races
· Average Running Position: 10.9, third-best

Jeff Gordon (Third, -27 points)
· One win, eight Top-5s, 11 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 17.0 in 25 races
· Average Running Position: 13.3, 10th-best

Kevin Harvick (Fourth, -28 points)
· Three Top-5s, 10 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 12.5 in 21 races
· Average Running Position: 15.2, 15th-best
*Series-high 1,360 Green Flag Passes

Kyle Busch (Fifth, -36 points)
· One win, six Top-5s, seven Top-10s
· Average Finish: 14.1 in 16 races
· Average Running Position: 11.2, fourth-best

Clint Bowyer (Sixth, -55 points)
· Three Top-5s, eight Top-10s
· Average Finish: 12.9 in 15 races
· Average Running Position: 12.8, ninth-best

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Seventh, -56 points)
· One win, three Top-5s, 12 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 14.3 in 22 races
· Average Running Position: 11.9, sixth-best
*Series-high 707 Quality Passes (passes within Top 15)

Greg Biffle (Eighth, -58 points)
· Two wins, eight Top-5s, 12 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 15.3 in 19 races
· Average Running Position: 12.3, seventh-best
*Series-high 458 Fastest Laps Run

Kurt Busch (Ninth, -75 points)
· One win, three Top-5s, 12 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 15.2 in 21 races
· Average Running Position: 14.7, 14th-best

Carl Edwards (10th, -76 points)
· Three wins, six Top-5s, eight Top-10s
· Average Finish: 14.4 in 17 races
· Average Running Position: 11.9, fifth-best

Joey Logano (11th, -85 points)
· Two Top-5s, two Top-10s
· Average Finish: 21.7 in 10 races
· Average Running Position: 22.2, 28th-best

Ryan Newman (12th, -106 points)
· One win, three Top-5s, four Top-10s
· Average Finish: 19.8 in 20 races
· Average Running Position: 20.8, 22nd-best

Kasey Kahne (13th, -124 points)
· One win, four Top-5s, five Top-10s
· Average Finish: 18.7 in 18 races
· Average Running Position: 15.4, 16th-best

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.