Kenseth aims to race hard but clean vs. Johnson in final races

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It’s all to play for between Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, who are tied atop the Sprint Cup championship standings heading into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

But despite the tense battle between them, Kenseth indicated that he’ll race Johnson hard but clean in the final three races – which include Sunday’s event at TMS, the Nov. 10 Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, and the season-ending Ford Ecoboost 400 on Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I think you always race as hard as you can, but at the same time you try to be as fair and clean as you can,” Kenseth said before qualifying sixth this afternoon for Sunday’s race. “I think you always throughout your career, you make mistakes and learn from them, all those kind of things. But, I think if you try to race people the way you want to be raced, it usually works out both ways.

“The goal is to always get your car running good where you can go pass and you can go out run other guys and not worry about that.”

Kenseth crashed during a test session at TMS last week, but has seen tremendous success on 1.5-mile ovals this season and would appear to have momentum after placing second last weekend at Martinsville Speedway – three spots ahead of Johnson, an eight-time winner at Martinsville in his Cup career.

The two rivals have each performed well over the years at TMS, and they’re expected to have another tight duel Sunday. As time runs out on the season, one could assume that a psychological battle may take shape in parallel with what occurs on the track.

But Kenseth said Friday that he won’t take part in any “head games” versus Johnson.

“My brain is over-capacity already with trying to figure out how to make my race car fast enough to be the best,” he said. “They always say, ‘If you want to be the man, you have to beat the man’ and [Johnson’s] always definitely been the man.

“[I’m] really just trying to concentrate on that and trying to figure out how to make our car fast enough to go out and be able to compete with not only him, but the rest of the field each and every week. It’s a competitive group.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.