FORT WORTH, Texas — Other than the fact that it conflicts with hunting season, Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage loves having the track's second race so close to the end of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship.
And Texas generally provides plenty of drama, regularly with the Chase contenders finding their way to the front. Last year, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards finished 1-2 at Texas, and 1-2 in the Chase.
The year before, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson all finished in the top 10, with Hamlin holding the points lead after winning. Of course, Johnson overtook him in the final race for his fifth straight title
Here are some other key story lines to watch this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway:
Handicapping the Chasers
After his five-year reign as champ was halted last season, Johnson is back in the running once again, leading Brad Keselowski by two points. Clint Bowyer is 26 back and Kasey Kahne is 29 off the lead, so don't count them out yet, either.
So let's handicap the race for those four drivers, to see who has the best chance of grabbing a late-season win that might vault them to a title:
Jimmie Johnson, 3-1: He has been one of the best at Texas, with 13 top-10 finishes in 18 races, including a runner-up at the spring race, but only one win. Still, when he's this close to a title, he usually finds a way to succeed.
Kasey Kahne, 7-1: He won at Texas in 2006, has been in the top seven in three of the last five races, and has better equipment this year. Sitting in fourth, he needs a big showing more than anyone as he tries to close strong in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports.
Clint Bowyer, 10-1: Several good runs at Texas, and he's been consistent in the Chase, with only one finish outside the top 10. Regardless, his performance this season has been huge for Michael Waltrip Racing.
Brad Keselowski, 14-1: Keselowski has had some strong Nationwide runs at Texas, but he has yet to crack the top 10 in a Cup race, his best finish 14th in 2010. But he knows how to win when the pressure is on, so this could be his breakthrough moment.
Leaving with the lead
Leaving Texas with the points lead is usually a good thing for the potential champion.
Since the November race was added as the eighth of 10 Chase races in 2005, the points leader after Texas has won the title five of seven times.
However, the latest trend is reversed. The last two years, the leader after Texas — Edwards last year and Hamlin in 2010 — got passed for the title.
Non-Chasers for Victory Lane
Not since Tony Stewart in 2006 has a non-Chase driver won at Texas in November, but here are three guys who could get it done on Sunday:
Cousin Carl: The back flip has been a popular celebration on the TMS infield, with Carl Edwards winning five races at the track (two Nationwide, three Sprint Cup).
The Shrub: NASCAR's little Busch, Kyle, has won more than any driver at Texas — seven races in all — but none in Cup.
Epic Swag: Mark Martin, a master of the 1.5-mile, should have the No. 55 running toward the front. Unfortunately, he doesn't go by “Epic Swag” anymore. That was a one-week gag after his Twitter account was hacked and his handle changed to that name.
Nationwide: Youngsters in pursuit
Not counting the Sprint Cup double-dippers who are looking for extra laps on the track, there are typically two categories of drivers in the Nationwide Series: the young gun looking to work his way into a Cup car, and the veteran trying to show the world that his racing career isn't over.
Right now, experience is leading.
The 37-year-old Elliott Sadler holds a narrow six-point lead on defending series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who just turned 25. And 22-year-old Austin Dillon is a manageable 26 points back as he nears the end of his first full Nationwide season.
Sadler has a Cup win at Texas in 2004, but Stenhouse is the driver to watch this week. Not only did he win at Texas in the spring, he has six total wins this season, and five of them have come on 1.5-mile tracks.
That could give Stenhouse an upper hand on the title as well, with 1.5-mile tracks hosting two of the final three races (Texas and Homestead).