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.

Carb Day: Tony Kanaan is fastest in final practice for Sunday’s Indy 500

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Tony Kanaan wants to put legendary driver and team owner A.J. Foyt back into Victory Lane at the Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan took a big step toward achieving that goal in Friday’s final practice for Sunday’s 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing.

Kanaan was fastest of the 33-driver field, with a best lap around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval at 227.791 mph, more than 2 mph faster than the second-fastest driver, Kanaan’s former teammate, Scott Dixon (225.684 mph).

Foyt won a record-tying four Indy 500’s as a driver. It’s been nearly 20 years since he also won as a team owner in 1999 with Kenny Brack behind the wheel.

Marco Andretti was third-fastest (225.200 mph), followed by Sebastien Bourdais (224.815), Charlie Kimball (224.712), 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato (224.083), Will Power (223.942), Danica Patrick (223.653), Spencer Pigot (223.584) and Ed Jones (223.556).

Other notable driver speeds included:

* Pole sitter Ed Carpenter was 14th fastest (223.219 mph).

* Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden was 15th (223.186 mph).

* Helio Castroneves, hoping to earn a record-tying fourth 500 win, was 17th (222.913 mph).

* Graham Rahal was 21st (222.526).

* Former 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was 26th (221.916 mph), followed by rookie Robert Wickens (221.821 mph), carrying the mantle for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with James Hinchcliffe having failed to qualify for the race.

* The biggest surprise was 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who was 32nd fastest (221.374 mph).

We’ll have the full speed grid, as well as full driver quotes, shortly. Please check back soon.

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