NASCAR Spring Cup Series, Goody’s Headache Relief 500, Martinsville Speedway
Jimmie Johnson is driving into unfamiliar territory for the first time in his stellar career.
Never before has six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Johnson has ever advanced this far in the newer Chase format, completing his mission in winning the Goody’s Headache Relief 500 and assuring his membership into the Championship Chase of 4, with two more races to go in the Round of 8.
His Hendrick Motorsports Lowe’s No. 48 took the lead from Denny Hamlin with 91 laps to go, heading the field before fending off Brad Keselowski and collecting his 79th win, ninth at Martinsville and fourth victory of the 2016 season.
Now he’s in position to make his own history by joining Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as one of the only seven-time Sprint Cup champions. Not wanting to speculate on his impending career-changing scenario, Johnson finally confided – and how could he not, with all the buzz surrounding him?
“I’ve been trying to ignore the conversation about seven, but now I can’t,” Johnson said in Victory Lane. “We’re locked in. It’s crazy to have a shot at seven now.
“I’ll probably lie to all of you guys and say I’m not going to think about it at all, but it’s inevitable. Fortunately, I don’t have to think about it for three weeks. But we’re going to enjoy this and savor it. We’re going to get our ducks in a row for Homestead.”
The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota brigade finish third, fourth and fifth with Hamlin, Kenseth and Busch in that order, respectively playing the Chase points game rather than charging to the front and having something happen.
“We all had a top three car during the end of the race, and we ended up three, four, five,” Hamlin said. “That’s never happy.”
Others who had their championship aspirations derailed were Carl Edwards, who blew a tire on lap 358, finishing 36th returning to the race after repairs. He is now 32 point from the cutoff line currently being held by Kyle Busch, four points to the good.
The Stewart-Haas team with Kevin Harvick and Kurt Bush missed the setup when the sun came out, leaving them both with ill-handling race cars and the results of 20th and 22nd, respectively, putting them in the sixth and seventh positions in the Chase, with Joey Logano finishing ninth and taking fifth place.
The following is the unofficial NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase to the Championship points standings after Martinsville: 1. Jimmie Johnson, 1 Win; 2. Denny Hamlin +6; 3. Matt Kenseth +6; 4. Kyle Busch +4; 5. Joey Logano -4; 6. Kevin Harvick -18; 7. Kurt Busch -18; 8. Carl Edwards -32.
In other NASCAR news, the Goody’s Relief 500 could be Jeff Gordon’s final Sprint Cup race of his historic, storied career. He finished sixth in his potential final race as Dale Earnhardt’s substitute, with Alex Bowman taking over next week in Texas.
The Lone Star state hosts the second race of the Chase to the Championship on Sunday, Nov. 6, at the Texas Motor Speedway for the running of the AAA of Texas 500 airing on NBCSN at 2 p.m. ET.
Johnny Sauter Sails into the Camping World Truck Series Championship Chase
Johnny Sauter left the Martinsville Speedway after winning the Texas Roadhouse 200 with a giant smile on his face, after outdueling Chase Elliott in the waning laps on Saturday afternoon, to now seeing his way clear to Miami-Homestead speedway and the NASCAR Camping World Truck series championship as the first of four finalists.
In taking his 12th win of his career, Sauter (along with Elliott) had to battle the different pit strategies of John Hunter Nemechek and Cameron Hayley, who only took on two tires versus four and got the track position and the lead. Sauter pushed Nemechek out of the way with 24 laps to go, retaking the lead and setting sail to victory.
“The key deal is liking a race track, and I can’t think of a better race track to decide a championship than Homestead,” Sauter said. “It’s a very racy place – you can run all over the race track. I feel like we are peaking at the right time. I feel like we’ve kind of saved some of our best bullets, so to speak, for the end, and we can go and really work hard on our Homestead piece for these next couple weeks.
“But I’m a racer – I think we all are – and we’re not just going to hang out these next two weeks. Texas has been a racetrack that we’ve had some success at in the past. We sat on the pole there earlier this year and had a shot to win the race. We want to win races, but we’re in a luxurious spot, I guess you’d call it. I want to win a championship. I’ve been doing this a long time, and have won races, but a championship is something that’s eluded me.”
The top five were Sauter, Elliott, Christopher Bell, John H. Nemecheck and Timothy Peters.
With six trucks trying to fit into three spots, all vying for the Championship Round, the pressure is on. The first driver to have trouble was Matt Crafton, who burnt up his brakes finishing 17th on the lead lap. Fellow chaser Ben Kennedy got into a heated dispute with Ben Rhodes after the two were racing tight, causing Kennedy to spin in turn two with John Wes Townley colliding with his Chevrolet and resulting with an 18th place finish.
After the race, Kennedy and Rhodes engaged in a heated exchange on pit road with NASCAR officials between them. “He just wrecked us,” Kennedy told reporters. “He had been giving us a headache all day. He tried to wreck us earlier and he failed at it and wrecked us over in turn two. If he wants to race us that way, we’ll race him that way.”
Rhodes took responsibility for the crash. “I owe him an apology for sure,” Rhodes said. “I know he’s in the Chase. I thought I could nudge him cleanly but got into him a second time and spun him around.”
The NASCAR Camping World Truck points going into Texas are as follows: 1. Johnny Sauter (1 Win); 2. Christopher Bell +13; 3. Timothy Peters +12; 4. William Byron +9; 5. Matt Crafton -9; 6. Ben Kennedy -10.
Up next for the Truck competitors is the Longhorn 350 on Friday night, Nov. 4, airing on FOX Sports 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET.