Just when it looked as if Jonson could starting clearing space on his trophy shelf for the 2010 NASCAR driving title, right to the other four titles he’s won, Denny Hamlin decided to make things interesting.
Johnson came out of flat to start the race and never really was much of a factor as he managed a very pedestrian 5th place finish at Martinsville, a track he generally runs very well on. But on Sunday he didn’t run as well as Hamlin or Kevin Harvick who dueled with the winner for most of the race and also cut into Johnson’s lead in the overall final Sprint Cup betting standings.
Martinsville is a tricky little track and rainy conditions didn’t help anyone in this final Sprint Cup odds competition. Both Johnson and Hamlin run well at this track and Hamlin made a statement earlier in the week by winning the pole and grabbing the crucial first slot in pit row which was a major boost on Sunday.
The win was Hamlin’s fifth straight at Martinsville and he had to win this race to keep his hopes alive in the final Sprint Cup odds action. As the only short track included in the Chase and with four speedways and superspeedways left on the schedule Hamlin will be at a disadvantage as Johnson is an expert on both the bigger tracks and the smaller tracks and its unlikely Hamlin can keep pace at the next stop in Talladega.
And in fact, if Johnson’s quest for a 5th straight is going to be derailed its likely going to Harvick that will strip the champ of his title.
With 6 of the 10 final Sprint Cup betting Chase already down the hatch there are just 4 races remaining. Johnson’s once comfortable lead has been trimmed to just 6 points over Hamlin. Harvick is in third place just 62 points back. Kyle Busch is in 4th place just 172 points back and could get hot; perhaps even posing a series challenge to Johnson as he looks for his first NASCAR driving title.