Sunday, October 30, 2011

Smoke Rises After 3rd Chase Victory

Tony Stewart won his 3rd Chase race at Martinsville, while other drivers' Chase hopes went up in smoke.  Stewart led early in the Tums Fast Relief 500, but faded during the middle of the race.  Following a two-tire stop late, Stewart was back up front and in contention for the win.  With three laps to go, Stewart lined up on the outside of Jimmie Johnson on the final restart.  No one had passed Johnson on the high side all day, but Stewart was able to make the pass. "I don't think anybody has ever passed Jimmie Johnson on the outside," said Stewart.  "It was just determination."  That determination also helped move Stewart up to second in points.  After starting the day 19 points back of Carl Edwards, he now finds himself only 8 points out of first place.  After the race, Stewart called out Edwards.  "Carl Edwards had better be real worried.  That's all I've got to say.  He's not going to sleep for the next three weeks."

Tony Stewart passes Jimmie Johnson for his third win of the season (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
 The fact that Edwards is still the point leader is very remarkable.  At one point, he was in the 20s and a lap down.  But somehow, Edwards and Crew Chief Bob Osborne were able to make another remarkable rally in the Chase to finish 9th.  "That's a gift.  We did not deserve to finish ninth.  My guys stuck with it and we got very, very fortunate."

Edwards wasn't the only Chase driver to record a top ten.  Hendrick teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon finished second and third, respectively.  Both had strong cars during the race, and it seemed like a done deal that Hendrick Motorsports would record its 200th Cup victory.  But neither were a match for Stewart when the race ended.  After a bad Talladega finish, Kevin Harvick finished fourth.  Denny Hamlin, who is always good at Martinsville, finished fifth.  Dale Earnhardt Jr., who came close to winning the first Martinsville race in April, finished seventh.  Ryan Newman, who spun early, came back to finish tenth.

Kurt Busch finished 14th, while fellow Penske teammate Brad Keselowski finished 17th.  Keselowski was headed to a top ten finish, but was spun by Denny Hamlin with three laps to go.  Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth wrecked in Turn 3 on lap 464.  Busch finished 27th, Kenseth was 31st. 

This wreck, which included Kyle Busch (18), Mark Martin (5), and Matt Kenseth, killed Busch's championship hopes (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
 The wreck puts Kyle Busch 57 points out of first, which ruins his championship hopes.  After Kenseth wrecked, he dropped to fifth in points, and now finds himself 36 points out of first.  With three races remaining in the Chase, here is how the point standings look, courtesy of

Carl Edwards got lucky once again.  He somehow managed a good finish out of a bad day.  Jimmie Johnson was passed for the win with three laps to go, and showed why he won't win the championship this year.  Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth both saw their championship hopes go up in smoke in the same accident.  The only driver who seems to be within striking distance of Carl Edwards is Tony Stewart.  Stewart may be on a roll again, and could find himself hoisting the Sprint Cup Trophy at season's end.  But there is only one way to find out who will win the championship.  So tune in next week, where the Sprint Cup Series will race at Texas, and one driver comes closer to hoisting the Sprint Cup Trophy.

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