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NASCAR Barometer: The Jimmie Johnson Show

Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett

Bennett covers baseball, college football and college basketball for RotoWire. Before turning to fantasy writing, he worked in scouting/player development for the Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos. He's also a fan of the ACC.

NASCAR fans couldn't have asked for much more in Texas, as the top two drivers were neck-and-neck down the stretch, with Jimmie Johnson passing Brad Keselowski on a restart with just two laps remaining.

Johnson extended his points lead to seven with the victory, and just two races stand between him and a remarkable sixth championship. For a second consecutive week, Keselowski gambled on his pit strategy, and again became the victim of circumstance. With 19 laps remaining, the No. 2 car took just left side tires while the rest of the pack took four, and thanks to two more restarts, was unable to maintain the lead he gained.

With just two races left, the Sprint Cup heads to Phoenix before wrapping things up in Miami the following week. Denny Hamlin was your winner in March in Phoenix, but all eyes will again fall upon the Lowes No. 48 car, which might just be too good to lose.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson would find himself here on history alone, as he's won four times in Phoenix since 2007, and has just two finish outside the top-10 since 2003. Mix in his two-race winning streak and modest seven-point lead, and Johnson is a no-brainer here. It'd be a surprise if he didn't better his fourth place finish from earlier this season.

Ryan Newman -
Something clicked with Newman's attack in Phoenix in 2010. He'd managed just three top-10 finishes in 15 starts prior to the new decade, but has since been very good in the desert, posting four top-five finishes in five tries. Newman finished a surprisingly low 21st in his March visit to Phoenix, but should fare better this weekend.

Carl Edwards -
To say 2012 has been disappointing for the 99 car would be an understatement, but Edwards has a chance to flash some of his 2011 form in Phoenix, a track where's he's had some inconsistent success. Edwards has mixed a win and a second-place finish with 28th and 17th place finishes in his last four starts in Phoenix. That 17th-place run came in March, and while using Edwards would be taking a leap of faith, he's due for a solid showing.

Kyle Busch -
Since failing to qualify for the Chase, Busch has six top-10 finishes in eight races. His history at Phoenix is spotty, but did come in sixth earlier this year, and is running too well to not consider.

A.J. Allmendinger -
Using Allmendinger this week would certainly be a gamble, as he hasn't finished higher than 24th in his four races since returning from suspension. He placed 18th at Phoenix in March, which would be an improvement on his current streak, and had two top-10 finishes at this track last year. Are you feeling lucky?

DOWNGRADE

Brad Keselowski -
Keselowski isn't going to throw in the towel and hand another championship to Jimmie Johnson, but the deck is certainly stacked against him. He's never finished better than 15th in a Sprint Cup race in Phoenix and has his work cut out for him if he hopes to have a shot at a championship in two weeks in Miami.

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin won the March race in Phoenix, but had averaged a 16th place finish in his previous four starts in Arizona. Pair that with his current cold streak, where he's averaging a 22nd place finish over his last three races, and Hamlin isn't a good bet to repeat.

Dale Earnhart, Jr. -
Junior's averaged a 20th place finish in his last seven Phoenix starts. Plain and simple, there are better options.

Martin Truex, Jr. -
Truex had some success in Phoenix a few years back, but his recent visits have left plenty to be desired. He's averaged a 14th place finish in his last four trips to Arizona, and despite a seventh-place tally earlier in 2012, there isn't a lot of upside with the 56 car.

Jamie McMurray -
McMurray hasn't finished better than 10th in his last seven starts in Phoenix, and came in a disastrous 37th in the March race this year. He shouldn't be considered.