Sunday, October 18, 2009

Five races down and 100-plus out, who is still in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship hunt?

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin where not only racing hard this past weekend side by side at Lowe's Motor Speedway, but are battling for the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR via NASCAR PR)

In the wake of the first five Chase for the Sprint cup races, there are now really only four drivers within striking distance of the point’s leader Jimmie Johnson with just five Chase for the Sprint Cup races to go.

NASCAR fans saw some drivers going for the victories while other where just points racing, first in New Hampshire, Mark Martin held off a hard charging Denny Hamlin and Juan Montoya to take the victory in the Sylvania 300 and the points lead. Dover on the other hand, NASCAR fans saw a sleeper with Jimmie Johnson run away with the race over his Hendrick teammate Mark Martin to win the AAA 400 and close the gap between him and point’s leader Mark Martin.

At Kansas Speedway, the field looked to be covered by the #48 team however a late race caution and a few drivers taking two tires put a new man on the point, Tony Stewart as he held off Jeff Gordon for the victory in the Price Chopper 400. The victory closed Tony Stewart in the top 5 in points. Ironically enough the Kansas race ended up being better than the Dover race the week before.

Then all eyes were on California Speedway (Auto Club Speedway of Southern California) for their first chase race and it wasn’t a delightful one where drivers raced in not a bad race, but not a good race in front of a less then stealer crowd that in the end saw Jimmie Johnson beat out his teammate Jeff Gordon to win the Pepsi 500. (Read article here)

Finally we come to last night’s slugfest at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Banking 500 where crowds were also less then stealer, but unlike California Speedway (auto Club Speedway) the racing was entertaining from what I saw of it. ESPN on ABC really needs to do a better job on showing the entire field and not just the chase drivers and Kyle Busch.

This was a night that some chase races including Denny Hamlin, Juan Montoya, Brian Vickers (if he wasn’t already out of it) and even Mark Martin would like to soon forget as Jimmie Johnson put up (put up or shut up and Johnson puts up) to beat Kasey Kahne after a good battle between Jeff Gordon and Johnson to win for the 3rd time in the chase and 6th win in 2009.

However with the top 4 battling for the championship, who is still in the hunt for the championship, who is out and why?

Now while several media members have basically written this chase off and awarded Jimmie Johnson the 2009 Sprint Cup, I haven’t. Sure I picked Johnson to win the championship this season, but even though Johnson has a 90 point lead over Mark Martin and 135 point leader over Jeff Gordon, there is still fiver chase races to go including Martinsville next week followed by Talladega, Texas, Phoenix, and the finale in Homestead, anything can happen.

Jimmie Johnson leads over Mark Martin (-90), Jeff Gordon (-135), Tony Stewart (-155), Kurt Busch (-177) and Juan Montoya (-195), meanwhile, 7-12 are out of the hunt, so they are just fighting to be in the final top 10 to be up on stage at the awards banquet in Las Vegas.

I’m a little surprised that Kurt Busch is still in it because of the Penske Racing vs. his crew chief and only allowing his crew chief Pat Tryson into the shop once a week for debriefings, that is ridiculous, I guess they don’t want a championship. Juan Montoya was a welcome change to be in the championship for some fans, but after Charlotte with the drama of a ill handling car due to some damage on the right rear, he’s on the bubble. That just leaves Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers on the outside looking in while with the exception of Denny Hamlin, it’s a big surprise if you look at their stats over the first 26-races.

I believe that while there is still five chase races to go, this is coming down to a top 4 battle for the championship with 5th and 6th on the bubble in the championship hunt, there are other drivers further down that in my opinion are completely out of it. All I have to say now is, Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Mark Martin and Tony Stewart…thoughts?