Sunday, April 22, 2018
Sports

Sprint Cup stars Kenseth, Johnson in each other's way

FORT WORTH, Texas — Matt Kenseth started to answer a question about how he could affect Jimmie Johnson on the track when the five-time Sprint Cup champion suddenly leaned around a corner of the room.

Then after both finished their qualifying laps later at Texas Motor Speedway, Kenseth was trackside during more interviews when Johnson playfully interrupted him and handed him a drink.

It's appropriate that the two are close to each other so much. Kenseth and Johnson are deadlocked for the points lead in the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship with three races left. Today's AAA Texas 500 is at the high-banked, 1½-mile track where they are statistically the best two drivers.

Johnson and Kenseth have each won twice at Texas, their 15 top-10 finishes are tied for the most and they have the best average finishes — Kenseth at 8.5, just ahead of Johnson's 9.1.

"It might change from his end if we're still in it all the way to the end, but I'm just not really into all the head games," Kenseth said. "My brain is over capacity already with trying to figure out how to make my race car fast enough to be the best. They always say, if you want to be the man, you have to beat the man and he's always definitely been the man."

Johnson qualified his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet third, a row ahead of Kenseth's No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, which starts sixth.

The two seem to be genuinely enjoying the Chase, on and off the track.

"I think we do have a lot of similarities in the way we race. Being around him, off the track … and with his family, we have a lot in common," Johnson said. "I wouldn't say we are identical. But we do have something very deep down that is very common between the both of us, the way we approach things a little more laid back."

Jeff Gordon is a season-high third, 27 points behind the leaders, who have 2,294. Still, this is likely a two-man Chase in Texas.

"It's definitely a tense period of time. Actually it's a lot of fun once I can really slow things down and pay attention to it," Johnson said.

Johnson had a slim points lead when he arrived at Texas in 2010, but finished ninth that day and fell out of the lead. He recovered to win the last of his five consecutive titles.

Kenseth has been a runner-up at Texas four times, including the spring race in 2007 when Jeff Burton passed him on the last lap for his only lead to win. That fall, Kenseth and Johnson traded the lead several times in the closing laps.

"I do remember that day, he was faster, ran us down. I think he was leading the points and we were pretty much out of the championship battle at the time," Kenseth said. "So, man, I raced him as hard as I could hoping …I would be able to win the race and hang on, but I couldn't. … I hope to turn the tables some day and be able to beat him."

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