NASCAR News - Week of October 22nd
Lucky seven took on a new meaning for Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville on Sunday. Johnson earned a valuable victory in the Tums Fast Relief 500. It marked his seventh victory on the track and vaulted Johnson past Brad Keselowski in the Sprint Cup standings.
Now the five-time series champion is in a favorable position to claim his sixth career title. Only three races remain and Johnson has momentum. Three previous championship seasons (2006, 2007 and 2008) featured a win at Martinville in the final stretch. Johnson has the experience and confidence to get it done in November. He has been a model of consistency with 17 top five finishes and 23 top 10 finishes to go along with four victories.
Winning his 59th career victory at Martinsville helped Johnson overcome a seven point deficit to Keselowski. Still, Keselowksi isn't prepared to go down without a fight. He remains just two points behind Johnson for the overall lead. Keselowski has five victories this season, which is one more than Johnson. He also has 12 top five finishes and 21 top 10 finishes this season.
Keselowski has led the Cup standings for five of the last six weeks thanks to big victories at Chicago and Dover in September. He stayed in striking distance with Johnson at Martinsville by rallying from the 32nd position, and took the lead at one point before finishing sixth.
The two-man battle will resume this weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway with the AAA Texas 500. Johnson had great success on the track in April. He finished second to Greg Biffle after leading for a race-best 156 laps.
Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne still have outside shots at winning the Sprint Cup. Bowyer trails Johnson by 26 points while Kahne is 29 points back. It will take a combination of good performances by either racer or a complete collapse by both Johnson and Keselowski down the stretch to allow such a scenario to unfold.
Kahne definitely helped his cause on Sunday. His third place finish at Martinsville was his 11th top five finish of the season. He could use another victory if he truly wants to make up enough ground over the final three races. Kahne has won just twice so far this season, with his most recent victory coming at New Hampshire in mid-July.
One thing is certain: Denny Hamlin is no longer in contention. Hamlin trailed by just 20 points before Sunday's race. Then disaster struck when a bolt broke on the master control switch in his car. It led to an electrical short and cost Hamlin 34 laps while his team tried to replace the switch.
Hamlin finished in 33rd place at Martinsville. That poor finish dropped him 49 points behind Johnson and effectively eliminated him from finishing atop the points standings. There's no guarantee he will even finish in the top five with Jeff Gordon nipping at his heels.
Gordon moved up a pair of spots in the points standings and he is now just five points behind Hamlin after finishing 14th at Martinsville.