Penske, Hendrick have dominated 1.5-mile tracks, but there’s a darkhorse to watch out for in Chase


Many fans are already anticipating that this year’s Sprint Cup champion is going to come from either Team Penske (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano) or Hendrick Motorsports (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and defending Cup champ Jimmie Johnson).

There’s some decent logic in that expectation.

There are a total of 11 1.5-mile tracks on the 2014 Sprint Cup schedule. Six races have already been contested, with five more still to come in the Chase, beginning with this weekend’s kickoff race at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway and ending with the season finale on another 1.5-miler, Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Thus far this season, Team Penske has three wins on 1.5-mile tracks: Brad Keselowski at Las Vegas and Kentucky.

Team Hendrick has the other three wins on 1.5-milers: Jeff Gordon (Kansas), Jimmie Johnson (Charlotte) and Kasey Kahne (Atlanta).

But here’s an interesting take, thanks to Dustin Long of The top-scoring driver on 1.5-mile tracks this season is none of the above.

What’s more, that same top-scoring driver hasn’t even won a race yet in 2014, yet is solidly in the Chase.

Trick question? Nope. The answer is simple: Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth.

Kenseth has managed to score a top-10 finish in each of the six races on mile-and-a-half’s already contested this season. Add his points totals up and Kenseth has earned 232 points on the mid-range tracks.

Gordon and Logano are tied for a close second with 228 points each on those same tracks.

There’s an irony that Kenseth led all Cup drivers last season with seven wins, but he’s yet to reach Victory Lane this season.

Could Kenseth have the kind of Chase that Tony Stewart had in 2011? Stewart failed to win any races during the first 26 races, but then won five of the 10 Chase races to claim the championship, thanks to a tie-breaker over Carl Edwards.

One other thing to note about Kenseth: guess who is the defending champion of Sunday’s race? Yep, the pride and joy of tiny Cambridge, Wisc. (population 1,200), that’s who.

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Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”