|Keselowski still maintains the points lead after 6 Chase races (Getty)|
Now the scene shifts to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s™ only short-track race at Martinsville Speedway, a miniature (0.526-mile) version of Talladega Superspeedway where a driver can go from the lead to 30th in the blink of an eye. Johnson and Jeff Gordon led all but a handful of laps in the spring but finished outside the top 10 after a green-white-checker accident gave Ryan Newman the victory.
Johnson and Hamlin statistically have the upper hand this week: 10 combined Martinsville victories including six in the Chase. Keselowski and Bowyer finished ninth and 10th, respectively in the spring. Tony Stewart is the defending winner of the TUMS Fast Relief 500.
This could be the week Dale Earnhardt Jr. returns to the seat of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet pending medical clearance. Earnhardt suffered a concussion Oct. 7 at Talladega Superspeedway and sat out the past two races at Charlotte and Kansas.
Reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. recorded his sixth victory of the season at Kansas Speedway last weekend, coming from two laps down to cut standings leader Elliott Sadler’s advantage to six points. Teams enjoy a bye week before contesting the campaign’s final three races beginning Nov. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR Camping World Truck teams begin the final, four-race push toward the 2012 championship beginning with Saturday’s Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway. Standings leaders Ty Dillon and James Buescher are separated by a single point and finished second and third, respectively at the 0.526-mile track in the spring. Race winner Kevin Harvick eyes a season sweep and a record, fourth Martinsville victory.
Ryan Truex will make his NCWTS debut in the No. 27 Hillman Racing Chevrolet, the third member of the Truex family to compete in a NASCAR national series race at Martinsville Speedway. His father, Martin Truex, competed in the NASCAR Nationwide Series while older brother Martin Truex Jr. is a qualifier for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
Kansas Settles Nothing; Still Keselowski Over Johnson By Seven
Chase leaders Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson dodged major bullets at Kansas Speedway. Keselowski, who finished eighth after qualifying 25th, retained his seven-point, post-Charlotte edge over Johnson, ninth after a near-miraculous recovery from a mid-race accident. Third-place Denny Hamlin (-20 points) finished 13th and lost ground while fourth-place Clint Bowyer (-25 points) crept closer with a sixth-place finish.
The points leader after six post-season races has gone on to win the championship five of eight times during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ era. Of note, reigning champion Tony Stewart was fourth, 19 points behind Carl Edwards with four races remaining in 2011.
April’s Finish Could Be Harbinger Of Wild Martinsville Affair
Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 very well could scramble the Chase standings – especially if there’s a repeat of the deciding laps of April’s race at the 0.526-mile track. Contenders Johnson, Bowyer and Jeff Gordon piled up on the next-to-final restart of a green-white-checker finish handing the victory to Ryan Newman. Bowyer finished 10th; Johnson 12thand Gordon, who led 329 laps, 14th. Hamlin was sixth and Keselowski, who led for the first time at Martinsville, finished ninth.
From the fall of 2006 through fall of 2010, either Johnson or Hamlin won every Martinsville race. The two have a combined 10 Martinsville victories (Johnson six – four in the Chase; Hamlin four – two in the Chase). Johnson owns the track’s top Driver Rating (121.4) and average finish (5.8) and has led 17.0% of the laps in the 21 races he’s competed. Hamlin isn’t far behind with a third-best Driver Rating (113.4) and average finish (6.4). Stewart won last year’s Martinsville Chase race.
Junior Hopes To Make Chase Return At Martinsville
Pending medical clearance, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will return to his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500. Earnhardt missed the past two events after suffering a concussion Oct. 7 at Talladega Superspeedway. Earnhardt finished third at Martinsville in the spring. He has a pair of second-place finishes (most recent, spring 2011) among 10 top-five finishes and has finished seventh or better in his past four Martinsville starts.
Kenseth’s Roll Continues But Is It Too Late?
Two victories in the past three races are proof that Matt Kenseth and Roush Fenway Racing have regained the magic that seemingly disappeared when the Chase began. The question remains, can Kenseth overcome a 55-point deficit with four races left in the post season? The Kansas and Talladega winner finished fourth in the spring but ranks 17th in Martinsville Driver Rating (79.1) with an average finish of 16.0. Ford and RFR’s last Martinsville victory came in the fall of 2002 with Kurt Busch. Kenseth was the last to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship under the full-season points system in 2003.