How in the world does anyone stop Jimmie Johnson? There are only five races left in the Chase and Johnson has himself a hefty 90-point lead in his quest to win an unprecedented four straight NASCAR Cup Championships.
As if winning three races in five of the Chase races thus far wasn’t bad enough, Johnson goes to a track this week where he’s won six times, including this year in March. The only active driver with more Martinsville wins than Johnson is his teammate and owner Jeff Gordon with seven wins.
One of the pillars of strength for Johnson during his three straight Championships has been Martinsville where he has won the last three years in Chase races. The flat half-mile paper-clip layout has been to Johnson’s liking and despite his standing in points, he’s always let it all hang out with disregard for points.
Johnson has won five of the last six races at Martinsville and every since his debut of 35th in his rookie season, he’s never finished outside of the top-10. In 15 starts, Johnson has 11 top-4 finishes. That is just ridiculous, but a sign of just how great he is on this track.
Can this week be any different than the last three seasons?
If there is anyone to say that Johnson won’t win this week it may the Virginian himself, Denny Hamlin. He won this race in the spring last season and led the most laps while finishing second to Johnson in the first race this year. In his last six races at Martinsville, Hamlin has finished no worse than sixth.
If the Virginian can’t get there, then it will be up to Jeff Gordon who hasn’t finished outside the top-4 in his last nine Martinsville races. Gordon last won on the track in 2005 when swept the season, but since then Johnson has taken over.
Of the three, Johnson, Gordon, and Hamlin, they have all hit the top-6 in the last six races at Martinsville. If thinking of betting against anyone of them, it likely is to be worse than betting on UNLV Football on the road.
The one wild card is Tony Stewart who finished third this year with his new team. Over his 21 career starts he has two wins and is fourth among active drivers in average finish position. Stewart also has led the third most laps among the active drivers behind Gordon and Johnson.
Of the Chase racers, Mark Martin may have a nice shot at competing with the heavyweights above. While he was on his part-timer farewell tour for two seasons he didn’t race at Martinsville. In his first outing this year he finished seventh under the Hendrick umbrella. He’s got two career wins on the track with the last coming in 2000.
Of the non-Chasers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. may have the best chance of finishing well. He finished second in this race last year and was eighth earlier this year while driving Tony Eury Jr. garbage. Despite his whining last week about how the season has gone, he should be primed and focused to have a good run at a track he’s always ran well at.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Micah Roberts
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