|Gordon, Johnson and Hamlin have won 15 of past 20 Martinsville races|
There are several great stories to root for over the next three races. Four drivers will advance either by winning or having the most points. It's possible that only one driver could advance on points, especially with Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano being favorites to win the Texas and Phoenix races.
The sentimental choice, whether a fan of his or not, has to be Gordon. NASCAR fans gave him a heap of boos throughout his early career while he was winning his four championships -- the last coming in 2001. He was almost like a villain character and that image was sometimes fueled by rival and fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt. Now, after watching Jimmie Johnson takeover the winners' villain role, and seeing Gordon 'pay his dues' over the years, there's been a reversal of feeling by many toward the good old dog.
Kevin Harvick should also have plenty of supporters as well. He's still looking for his first Cup title. The thing most like about him is that he's a badass that doesn't take any guff, and he's a direct link to the Earnhardt/Childress No. 3 era. There's a lot of love in NASCAR Nation for the Bakersfield, CA native. Harvick won at Martinsville in 2011 and his teammate Kurt Busch won in the spring race. He should run well. The Westgate will pay 6-to-1 odds if Harvick wins Sunday.
Denny Hamlin is listed at 8-to-1 odds, and from the standpoint of rooting for a Chase underdog, he's a great choice to support in the quest to win his first title. He had to sit and watch those Penske and Hendrick cars pass him all season long with their massive horsepower, but he drove smart. He took 25th-place cars and routinely finished with top-10's. Now his team is gradually getting better. He's one of the final eight drivers and he comes to Martinsville where he has a home field advantage with four wins and an 8.8 average finish in 17 starts.
Then there's Matt Kenseth, who is still looking for his first win this season and first at Martinsville. Last fall during the Chase, Kenseth had the best Martinsville run of his career with a second-place finish. He has some more fans just because he stepped up at Charlotte and showed everyone he's not going to be bullied anymore. He finished sixth in the spring race.
Jimmie Johnson is an eight-time winner at Martinsville and comes in at 5-to-1 odds. Because of his 3.7 average finish over his past 20 starts, it seems logical to think he might finish fourth or better. In his last four he has two wins, a fifth and runner-up. Now that his championship chase for title No. 7 is over, does the team regroup and begin testing for 2015? Does it matter with Johnson at Martinsville?
Johnson, Gordon and Hamlin have combined to win 15 of the last 20 Martinsville races. Besides Gordon and Hamlin, Harvick and Ryan Newman (2012) are the only Chase drivers with a Martinsville win. Brad Keselowski finished 38th in the spring race, but prior to that he had three solid runs of sixth or better. Joey Logano was fourth in the spring, and his best finish was runner-up in 2010.
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