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Race Day: Your guide to Sunday's AAA 500

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Nov. 03, 2012

Three things to watch

1 . Two years ago, Denny Hamlin took command of the Sprint Cup Series title race with a win at Texas. Could Jimmie Johnson or Brad Keselowski do the same this year?

2 . Roush Fenway Racing teammates Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth may be out of the title hunt but both should be contenders for Sunday's win. Biffle won here in the spring.

3 . Michael Waltrip Racing cars have been fast all season and no reason to think they'll slow down now.

Observations

• With all the success Jimmie Johnson has had since he became a fulltime Cup series driver, it might seem strange to still get impressed with his performance. However, his back-to-back poles here late in the Chase showcase he and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team's continuous improvement. Johnson has admitted qualifying has not been his forte but also recognizes how much his crew chief, Chad Knaus, values it. Last weekend it translated into a win. A repeat and a sixth Cup title becomes much more attainable.

• Hard to fathom with how much has changed for crew chief Mike Ford in two years. In 2010, he and driver Denny Hamlin were seemingly riding to their first championship together after a win in this race. Since then, Hamlin and Ford lost the 2010 championship to Johnson, Ford has since left Joe Gibbs Racing and was recently replaced at Richard Petty Motorsports as well.

• There's a carnival set up outside of Turn 2 at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. While some might find it hokey, I've always thought it was an excellent addition to race weekends. Fans generally spend enormous time on property each weekend looking for things to do – particularly children-friendly ones – while waiting for races to get underway.

Best bets

Jim Utter gives you three picks for your fantasy racing league:

Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr.

Notes

Keselowski ready to strike: While he certainly expects to have more opportunities to win Cup championships in his career with Penske Racing, Brad Keselowski is by no means looking to squander this year's opportunity.

“I do feel I'll have more chances but I don't want to waste them,” he said. “Whether it’s the addition of Joey Logano next year, there’s a whole list of reasons, I only see us getting stronger. I don’t see fading, how about that?

“For that reason, it doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be happy if I don’t win it this year, I’d feel like there’s potential to get it done for year’s to come.”

ESPN goes one-on-one: Four of NASCAR's biggest stars will open their lives to fans in a one-hour conversation special with ESPN SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.

The SportsCenter Special: “NASCAR Face-to-Face with Hannah Storm,” will feature Cup drivers Jimmie Johnson, Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart. NASCAR will be the fourth subject in Storm's Face-to-Face series, which in previous editions focused on the NBA, the NFL and NFL player Tim Tebow.

Piquet unsure about 2013: While Nelson Piquet Jr. is wrapping up his most successful NASCAR season, his plans for 2013 remain up in the air.

“I'm talking all over the place, trying to get opinions from people, see what the best offers are out there,” said Piquet, who has two Truck wins and one Nationwide series win this season.

“Honestly I would like to know what's the right thing to do, what's the answer, but right now we're just talking to everybody.”

Race facts

Where: Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas

Track type: 1.5-mile banked, paved quad-oval

Race distance: 334 laps or 501 miles

Weather: Partly sunny with high in the low 70s.

TV: Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on ESPN. Green flag is 3:16 p.m.

Radio: Motor Racing Network

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