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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has won seven times at Texas Motor Speedway, where the series races today.

Sunday, November 05, 2017 1:00 am

Johnson likes odds he'll race for 8th title

STEPHEN HAWKINS | Associated Press

 FORT WORTH, Texas – Jimmie Johnson still has two very conceivable options for a chance to race for his record-breaking eighth NASCAR Cup Series championship.

Win one of the next two races, or just be in the top four in points after that, and Johnson will get one of the four championship-contending spots in two weeks.

“I do feel good about getting in,” Johnson said.

Johnson is a seven-time winner at Texas, where the Cup Series races today. He won there in April in the first race after the 11/2-mile track was completely repaved and restructured in Turns 1 and 2. And in the current driver standings, he is only three points out of the top four spots.

As for Chase Elliott, Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate is probably in a must-win situation after being oh-so-close to being locked into a title shot at Homestead.

Elliott arrived in Texas eighth among the eight championship contenders, and 26 points out of the top four, after being wrecked by Denny Hamlin when leading two laps shy of the scheduled checkered flag at Martinsville last week. His first Cup victory would have locked him into a championship chance, and a top-five finish could have been a points boost. He instead finished 27th.

“As long as the week has gone along, it has given me a lot of time to think about how close we were to going to Homestead,” Elliott said. “I think if anything else that will drive you up the wall more if you think about it.”

Making things even more difficult and frustrating for Elliott in Texas, the No. 24 didn't make it through tech inspection in time to make a qualifying run Friday. He will start 34th while all the other seven championship contenders qualified in the top 10.

Martinsville winner Kyle Busch, who held off points leader Martin Truex Jr. for the race that needed five extra laps, is the only driver who has clinched one of the four championship-contending spots in the season finale.

Kurt Busch, out of championship contention and with his Cup status for next season still unsettled, is on the pole at Texas after being one of five drivers with qualifying laps of more than 200 mph. He is now with Stewart-Haas Racing but doesn't have a deal settled for 2018 with that or any other team.

“No updates for me. We are in negotiations,” Busch said, without elaborating after qualifying. “Days like today help quite a bit.”

Hamilin, who is seventh in points, qualified second after going 200.617 mph. Kevin Harvick, now holding down the fourth spot, starts third. Points leader Truex starts seventh, two spots behind Kyle Busch.

“Definitely confidence is high. Feel good about it. Mile and a half is – obviously they've been good for us this year, but honestly, I feel like everywhere we go this year, right now especially, we can run up front and have a shot at winning,” Truex said.

Brad Keselowski, the other driver currently in the top four spots, starts 10th.