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Could Keselowski echo Gordon’s upstart title?

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Wednesday, Nov. 07, 2012
Next race AdvoCare 500 Where: Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, Ariz. When: 3 p.m. Sunday TV: ESPN Radio: Motor Racing Network Last year’s winner: Kasey Kahne

My two cents

It certainly appears Jimmie Johnson is in a strong position to win his sixth Sprint Cup Series championship with two races remaining.

The five-time champion has a seven-point advantage over his nearest rival, Brad Keselowski, heading to a track this weekend – Phoenix International Raceway – where he has been very successful.

Yet all may not be what it seems.

Why? History tells us so.

Backtrack to 1995. The late Dale Earnhardt was fresh off his NASCAR-record-tying seventh Cup championship and was in good shape to win an eighth.

A young upstart driver who sometimes rubbed his competitors and fans the wrong way looked to change that. His name was Jeff Gordon.

The previous season, Gordon finished eighth in the series standings and had won his first two races of his career. The odds then appeared on Earnhardt’s side.

Down the stretch Gordon outpaced the veteran Earnhardt, racking up seven wins that season to Earnhardt’s five and won his first series championship by 34 points – a very small margin under the points system then in place.

It would be the beginning of an impressive career for Gordon, who has gone on to win four Cup titles and has 86 wins and counting. The 1995 title was also the first for team owner Rick Hendrick, who has become one of the most successful owners in the sport’s history.

Keselowski, 28, is just in his third full season in the Cup series. He drives for an organization, Penske Racing, which has never won NASCAR’s biggest prize.

He is brash, outspoken and a talented driver.

Why does he have a chance?

History tells us so.

Notes

Vickers to run for Nationwide title: Brian Vickers will join Joe Gibbs Racing and compete for the 2013 Nationwide Series championship with the organization. Vickers is a former series champion who drove a part-time schedule in the Cup series this season for Michael Waltrip Racing.

“I’m very happy to stay in the Toyota family, and when you look at the Nationwide Series over the past several years, no team has dominated like Joe Gibbs Racing,” Vickers said.

Vickers will be sponsored by Dollar General, which also announced an expanded partnership with JGR next season. Dollar General will sponsor the No. 20 Toyota team driven by Matt Kenseth in 20 races next season – up from 12 this year.

Coulter will move to KBM: Kyle Busch Motorsports announced this week the team has signed Joey Coulter to compete for the NASCAR Truck series championship in 2013.

Coulter currently ranks fifth in the Truck series standings and is tied for the series lead with three poles. The 22-year-old driver picked up his first career Truck win at Pocono (Pa.) and has six top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season.

“Joey has been running up front, competing for wins this year and we feel like he is ready to have a breakout year,” team owner Kyle Busch said.

Kwasniewski can claim title: Dylan Kwasniewski, 17, heads into the final race weekend for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West at Phoenix with a two-point lead over teammate Greg Pursley entering Saturday’s series finale.

The veteran Pursley is the defending series champion, while Kwasniewski was the series’ rookie of the year last season.

Mandel to host Cup series awards: Comedian, actor, producer, author and judge Howie Mandel will serve as host of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards on Nov. 30 at the Wynn Las Vegas. The awards show will honor the 2012 champion along with the rest of the top 10 drivers in the Chase.

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