The first race in the third round of the Chase was a bit of a treat for some drivers and teams and maybe a bit of trick for others trying to become one of the four drivers to compete for the title in Homestead later this month. And of course, one of those drivers is has the treat of not having to worry about where he finishes in the next two races in order to make it to Homestead.
If you were one of those people back in mid-summer wondering what was wrong with the Hendrick cars, why weren’t they winning any races and just how would they fare in the Chase, then raise your hand (mine hand is up). Jimmie Johnson forged more of his path toward a record tieing seventh title by winning at Martinsville on Sunday. Johnson overcame a potential fuel issue midway through the race and gradually worked his way back from 25th up to the lead. He even got Denny Hamlin a little perturbed with a pass for the lead, but there were no apologies (and there should not have been) from Johnson. At this stage of the season, if you’ve got a chance to win without wrecking the guy in front of you, that’s what you’ve got to do. Johnson may be tough to beat at Homestead.
One of the downers about the race was NASCAR’s inability to quickly sort out a scoring situation when the yellow flag came in the midst of green flag pit stops. It can certainly be a bit confusing when you consider the start finish line in this situation extends across pit lane, but then you also have the matter of cars exiting pit road and being passed before they hit the pit road exit line. The bottom line is it took about 20 minutes for NASCAR to figure just who belonged where. While it’s important they get it right, it’s also important that they get it right faster than what they did.
While Hamlin was a little upset with Johnson, in the big picture of all of this, he should be pretty happy with a third-place finish. While he, of course, wanted to win, he certainly helped his cause in the points standings along with Gibbs drivers Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, who finished fourth and fifth. Sure, Busch wasn’t happy because he sort of got stuck behind teammates and couldn’t do the bump and run on them, and sure it means one of the four Gibbs cars won’t run for the title at Homestead, but to have three cars run so well in the first race of this round of the Chase is nothing to be ashamed about.
Kevin Harvick has been in this situation before, and come through with a win in each of the first two rounds of the Chase, and now he may have to win one of these next two races to have title hopes at Homestead. Harvick finished 20th Sunday and is now 16 points out of the fourth and final spot. Of course, Harvick has been dominant at Phoenix (the final race in this round) in recent years, and some may already be conceding that race to him. But a blown tire, a bad stop, or any number of issues could happen and you have to wonder how many of these must-win scenarios can play to Harvick’s favor. Just remember, you can’t count your checkered flag before you take the green.
Well, this is sort of treat, even though Michael McDowell may have felt it was more of a trick after the race Sunday. McDowell is known as one of the nicer guys you could ever meet, so he’s easy to root for. He’s helped the No. 95 team become respectable in recent weeks, including finishing 18th Sunday. But we found out after the race Sunday that he’s also a pretty tough guy, too. McDowell suffered burns to his feet and also had dehydration issues as he had been ill during the week. He collapsed just after the race and was treated and released from the infield care center. But his effort brought reminders of the throwback era where guys raced with an assortment of ailments. Here’s hoping McDowell is feeling good enough to race Sunday and continue the improvement for Circle Sport Levine Family Racing.
The one Gibbs driver who didn’t have a good day at Martinsville was Carl Edwards. The victory back flipper ended up with a finish near the back of the pack in 36th after he blew a tire that put him in the wall and caused significant damage to his car and championship hopes as he is 32 points behind teammate Kyle Busch. Sure, Edwards is capable of winning at either Texas or Phoenix, but what happened to him at Martinsville could happen to any of the Chasers in these next two races.
Well, Jimmie Johnson has a pretty good record at Texas (three wins in the last fives races), but I can’t pick him every week. So this week I’m going to go with Joey Logano to win and be the second title contender to reach Homestead. The deep sleeper underdog who you might or might not think about pick is Jamie McMurray, who has three top 10 finishes in the last five races there.
About the author
Jeff is in his fifth year with Frontstretch and in his third year of writing the Hot and Not column after having been the fantasy writer in his first two seasons. After spending all of his post-collegiate career in sports and news at newspapers, he changed professions three years ago, but remains a faithful fan of NASCAR and other forms of racing allowing him to give us his unique take on NASCAR each week.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.