Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With eight races now completed in theChase for the Sprint Cup, it comes down to a battle between Jimmie Johnson andBrad Keselowski for the championship.
Actually, it's more than a battle between Johnson and Keselowski, it's aslugfest. That was pretty evident on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, where thetwo duked it out for the win late in the race.
After winning Texas in dramatic fashion, Johnson referred to the Chase battlebetween Keselowski and he as a "bare-knuckle fight" and "the gloves are off."
Johnson's victory allowed him to widen his points lead from two to seven. TheSprint Cup Series will run its penultimate race next Sunday at Phoenix andthen conclude the season on Nov. 18 at Homestead.
The championship battle is shaping up to be a repeat of last year's duelbetween Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. Stewart trailed Edwards by eight pointswith three races remaining, but Stewart won at Texas and Homestead to claimthe title in a points tiebreaker.
"It reminds me of last year's Chase in some respects," Johnson said.
Either Johnson or Keselowski has led in the point standings since the Chasebegan on Sept. 16 at Chicagoland. Keselowski's seven-point deficit is hislargest since the start of the postseason.
"It's a small amount of control, but we're definitely in control," Johnsonsaid. "We don't have to catch anyone or make up any points. Seven points isnothing to feel comfortable about and to relax on. We're still going to gointo Phoenix and act as if we're behind and go in there to try to sit on thepole and win the race again."
Keselowski won at Chicagoland and then scored another Chase victory on Sept.30 at Dover. But Keselowski has managed to remain very much in titlecontention after finishing eighth at Kansas and then sixth at Martinsville, atrack where he had struggled in the past.
After running behind Johnson for most of the race at Texas, Keselowski gambledwith a two-tire strategy during the final round of pit stops with 22 laps togo. Keselowski inherited the lead and then held off Johnson, who took four newtires, in a pair of restarts.
But an accident involving Mark Martin on the front stretch in the closing lapsset up a green-white-checkered finish. The third restart was the charm forJohnson, as he passed Keselowski for the lead on the backstretch and then ranin front for remaining one-and-a-half laps.
"I think the restarts made the difference," Keselowski said. "Jimmie probablywould have gotten me with an extended amount of laps to go, but with only fiveor six to go when I had the lead, I felt pretty good about it.
"I felt like restarts are like rock, paper, scissors. Eventually you're goingto lose them. It's just a matter of time. There's always time to counteractthe strategy. To win two out of three (restarts), I felt lucky to do that.Obviously, I didn't win the last one that counts."
Keselowski crossed the finish line 0.8 seconds behind Johnson.
"I'm confident that we will come back around, and when it does, we'll changethese second and fifth (place finishes) or whatever they are over the last fewweeks into wins," Keselowski noted. "I feel like that's bound to happen overthe next two weeks, and we have the team to pull it off. I also feel like theway the points are right now, we still control our own destiny, which is if wewin the race, we get the points lead."
Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne were considered as possible championshipcontenders before Texas, but Bowyer's sixth-place finish put him 36 pointsbehind, making him a long shot at best. Kahne finished 25th and droppedto 58 points out of the lead, which essentially ended his title hopes.
Johnson has earned the maximum amount of points -- 48 -- in each of the lasttwo races. He has started on the pole, led the most laps and won at bothMartinsville and Texas.
"The way things have been going, you have to win the race to get points,"he said. "To win the pole, lead the most laps and win the race is a big deal.Just excited and really wish we were in Phoenix right now getting ready tostart the next race."
Keselowski recently predicted that the championship will come down to the lastlap at Homestead. With the way things are going right now, that looks to bethe case.