Jimmie Johnson, Martinsville winner from pole position - image: Hendrick MotorsportsEnlarge Photo
Jimmie Johnson hadn’t won at Martinsville since 2009, but you’d never know that from the way the Hendrick Motorsports driver raced on Sunday. Starting from pole, Johnson led the highest number of laps in the race before dueling Kyle Busch
for the lead with five laps remaining.
When the checkered flag waved, it was Johnson, followed by Busch, followed by Kasey Kahne in the final podium spot. Brad Keselowski, who’d been atop the point standings heading into Sunday’s race, finished in sixth place, dropping him to second spot in the Chase for the Championship.
Aric Almirola, who very nearly took a win in Kansas, delivered another strong performance in Martinsville, crossing the line in fourth. Clint Bowyer followed in fifth, garnering enough points to displace Denny Hamlin
for third place in the championship.
While Hamlin was our race preview favorite for a win at Martinsville
, luck was not on his side. Hamlin struggled with ignition problems throughout the race, and stalled on track with a little more than 100 laps remaining.
Though his crew managed to get the car fixed, Hamlin rejoined the race some 34 laps down, resulting in a disappointing 33rd-place finish. Now trailing points leader Jimmie Johnson by 49 points, Hamlin is almost certainly out of contention for this year’s title.
Heading into Texas, the championship is turning into a two-horse race between Johnson and Keselowski. While both Bowyer and Kahne are still in it, mathematically, it seems unlikely that either driver can climb the standings to challenge for the championship.
This is NASCAR, and there are three races remaining, so we suppose anything is possible.