FORT WORTH, Texas — With only three races remaining in the Sprint Cup's Chase for the Championship, each race gets a little more intense.
Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson are tied for the points lead heading into Sunday's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, a race that could go a long way toward determining the series champ.
Five-time champ Johnson has been back to his old ways, at his best when it's all on the line in the Chase. And Kenseth has excelled this season after joining Joe Gibbs Racing in the offseason.
Here are a few story lines to watch this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway:
Only a two-man race?
Johnson and Kenseth are tied for the points lead, but three other drivers are within 36 points of the lead. With three races remaining, it's not outlandish to think that one of those three drivers — Jeff Gordon (27 back), Kevin Harvick (28 back) or Kyle Busch (36 back) — could make a run at the title.
But track history at Texas certainly doesn't play in their favor.
All three have won and been generally successful at TMS. But Johnson and Kenseth have been crazy good. Expecting one or both of them to fault at Texas isn't a good bet.
Johnson has two wins at Texas, including last November, and he's only finished outside the top 10 five times in 20 starts. For that matter, he's only finished worse than 15th twice.
Kenseth is almost as strong at TMS, with two wins and 15 top-10s in 22 starts. He hasn't finished outside the top 20 since his first race at the track in 2000.
Leaving Texas with a lead
Considering that only two races remain when drivers wrap it up at TMS on Sunday, you'd think that whoever is able to gain a points advantage at Texas will be in good shape to claim the title.
Each of the last three years, the leader after the Texas race has fallen from the top spot over the final two weeks.
Last year, Johnson won at Texas and left with the points lead, but saw Brad Keselowski surpass him in the final two weeks. The year before, it was Carl Edwards who was on top after Texas, but Tony Stewart caught him and took the title via tiebreaker.
And in 2010, Denny Hamlin led the points after his win at Texas, and still led after Phoenix the following week, only to see Johnson rally in the final race to claim his fifth straight title.
Every year since 2005, when Texas' November race was added to the Chase lineup, a driver in the Chase has won there. And seven of the eight races have been won by a driver who ultimately finished in the top four in points that season.
So expect Johnson and Kenseth to be in contention Sunday evening. But if a non-Chaser is going to slip in and steal the show, here are a few to watch:
Brad Keselowski: The defending champ finds himself on the outside looking in this season, but broke through with his first win a few weeks ago at Charlotte. He was ninth at Texas in the spring and second last November.
Denny Hamlin: The last two months have been up and down for Hamlin, but he's coming off a strong run at Martinsville, where he won the pole and finished seventh. If his engine holds up — that's been an issue for the No. 11 car lately — he has a strong record at Texas, which includes two wins and five more top-10s.
Martin Truex Jr.: He was the runner-up at Texas in the spring after leading 142 laps, and hasn't finished worse than 13th in his last four trips to DFW.
Dillon hunting Nationwide title
The Nationwide Series will have a new champion this year, and Austin Dillon hopes it's him. Two-time defending champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is running full-time on the Cup circuit this year, opening the door for the 23-year-old Dillon, who currently holds an eight-point lead over Sam Hornish Jr.
Dillon, the grandson of car owner Richard Childress, finished third in points last year. He'll have to battle some Cup drivers on the track Saturday afternoon in Texas, though. That includes Kyle Busch, who earned his record sixth Texas Nationwide win in the spring.
Buescher running out of time in Trucks
Defending Truck series champion James Buescher, a Texas native, always has a big support group at his home track, but he'll need more than a strong cheering section to repeat as champion.
Trailing Matt Crafton by 51 points with three races to go, Buescher will need a strong run at Texas on Friday night, and he'll likely need Crafton to slip up along the way.