As Phoenix beckons, the Chase is now a two-horse race

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Barring some cataclysmic occurrence over the final two races of the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, either Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth will soon be adding another championship to their trophy cases.

Johnson’s commanding victory in today’s AAA Texas 500 and Kenseth’s fourth-place result would appear to have effectively finished off the hopes of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon.

Harvick ran a quiet eighth – not nearly enough to do any damage against the top two contenders. Kyle Busch had a chance to win until a late-race penalty for speeding on pit road knocked him out of at least a Top-5 and sent him to a final outcome of 13th place.

Then there was Gordon, who suffered a tire failure and slammed the wall on Lap 74, effectively taking him out of the title conversation after he had just gotten back into it with his win one week ago at Martinsville. He would return to action late in the running, and finished 38th.

Harvick remains third in the standings, but is now 40 points behind Johnson, the new leader of the championship by seven points over Kenseth. Kyle Busch is now fourth at 52 points back, while Gordon tumbled all the way to sixth at 69 points back.

There’s no doubt now. With Phoenix International Raceway coming up next weekend and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway just two weeks out, the Chase has, for all intents and purposes, come down to two combatants.

Last week, Johnson dubbed his duel with Kenseth and, then, Gordon as a “dogfight.” Today, he likened the championship to a cage match after beating the Texas field black and blue.

“I’ve been watching a lot of MMA fighting lately, and you’ll fall into a rhythm and think somebody’s got the fight won – and it doesn’t end that way,” Johnson said. “That’s how this is gonna be. Matt didn’t have the best day and he still finished fourth…This thing is going to go to the last lap at Homestead, and it’s going to come down to mistakes.

“I’m very excited about our performance and what we did here, and we’ll enjoy this. But there’s still two weeks of very hard racing left ahead of us.”

Kenseth almost made a critical mistake this afternoon, when he was penalized for a pit road speeding penalty around the race’s midway point. But he had plenty of time to make up for the gaffe and he just about did the job.

With his rally to fourth over the second half of the race, Kenseth made sure that the big punch Johnson threw today wasn’t a knockout. Now comes Phoenix, a place where both of them were competitive back in the spring (Johnson finished second to Carl Edwards, while Kenseth finished seventh).

“I thought overall, tonight was a pretty good night,” Kenseth said of his work today. “If I wouldn’t have messed up, maybe we could have ran second. We’ll just go there, hope we have the car to win, be aggressive, race hard, and hope we can get the finish.”

Two races. Two drivers. And stock car racing’s ultimate prize, hanging in the balance.

This is going to be fun.

Malcolm Stewart sidelined from Supercross by knee surgery for ‘extended duration’

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The knee injury that kept Malcolm Stewart from mounting up for Anaheim 2 will require surgery and he will be sidelined for “an extended duration” of the Monster Energy Supercross season, according to the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team.

“I just wanted to give you guys an update,” Stewart said on Instagram. “It’s not the news you guys want to hear, but I took a spill last week and hurt my knee pretty bad to the point that we’re going to have to get surgery done.

“I’m definitely bummed out about it; I felt we were riding pretty good and were just now starting to get the ball rolling, but it is what it is.”

Stewart’s season started with high expectations until accidents in the first two rounds left him 15th in the standings.

He ended 2022 on a high note, finishing a career high third in the Supercross standings. He then missed the start of the Pro Motocross season with another knee injury.

The 2023 season appeared to live up to his expectations. Despite back-to-back accidents, Stewart contended for podiums at both Anaheim 1 and San Diego. He won his heat at San Diego.

“It was very tough to receive the news that Malcolm will need to undergo knee surgery,” Nathan Ramsey, Team Manager for the Husqvarna team said in a press release. “He has worked so hard to be in a position to win races this year and I truly believe he was ready.

“The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing program will support him in every way that we can through his recovery and we can’t wait to get him back on track and back at the races.”

Stewart joins 250 rider Jalek Swoll on the sidelines after he broke an arm in a practice session. Swoll will be relieved by Talon Hawkins beginning this week at Houston, Texas.

A replacement rider has not been announced for Stewart, which means the focus shifts to his 450 teammate Christian Craig, who currently sits 12th in the standings with three top-15s in the opening rounds.