Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sprint Cup 2009, Race 32: The Clock is Ticking for Two Contenders

Martinsville Aftermath
Though Jimmie Johnson did not win the race at Martinsville, by finishing second and ahead of all his Chase competitors, he did what he needed to do to move toward locking down the championship. Having finished second, Jeff Gordon in 5th, Mark Martin in 8th, and Tony Stewart in 10th, Johnson increased his margin over all three drivers gaining 15 points on Gordon, 28 points on Martin, and 41 points on Stewart, what is required of the contenders to make up serious ground is going to require near perfection and the only driver who has exhibited near perfection so far is Johnson. The only silver lining is that Talladega is one of Johnson’s toughest tracks, the site of his only DNF this year.

Here’s the competition for the championship:
1 – Jimmie Johnson
2 – Mark Martin (-118)
3 – Jeff Gordon (-150)
4 – Tony Stewart (-196)

With Stewart now more than a full race spread out of first, the karma in place would say only a Stewart victory and a Johnson last place DNF could put him back in the picture. With four races to go, Martin needs to make up about 30 points a race while Jeff Gordon would require 38 points. Those kinds of margins can only be achieved if these guys finish high in the top ten and Johnson finishes outside the top ten. Short of Johnson failing to consistently place in the top ten or a major catastrophe on his part, it’s a 4th consecutive title.

Talladega could be Martin’s and Gordon’s last stand. Once the field moves on to Texas, Phoenix, and Homestead, Johnson will be able to start sandbagging and racing to just avoid trouble, a strategy that is almost impossible at Talladega where just being a little out of line in one of the last big drafts can throw a driver back ten or more places. As the Sprint Cup drivers look ahead to next week, there’s one thought that all of them will consider, “the big one.”

The only driver who could be collected in a big one and still have his championship dreams alive would be Jimmie Johnson for at this stage, even a last place finish would put him still in strong contention for a championship. Jeff Gordon winning a race with Johnson finishing dead last could over take him in the standings. Mark Martin would have to win and Johnson finish in 32nd. If Mark Martin could average 5th and Johnson 15th for the rest of the year, Martin could win. Johnson would have to drop off at least another position for Gordon. This does not take into consideration laps led and it’s likely all three of these drivers would lead some laps in the remaining four races.

For Rick Hendrick, it’s looking like he could sweep the top three spots in this year’s chase and were Tony Stewart to hold on to fourth position, that’s essentially a Hendrick car too.

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