By: Jason Schultz
Seven down, three to go. In three races we will crown the 2012 Sprint Cup Champion. A very telling race occurred Sunday in afternoon in Martinsville and we saw some drivers lose, keep and gain some championship momentum. Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski were the front running championship contenders coming into Martinsville and now that list has taken a shake-up. Hamlin just about lost his chances at the championship and Johnson gained some championship momentum.
Four out of the last eight years, the winner of the Martinsville race has gone on to win the championship and Jimmie Johnson has done that three times. Johnson pulled into victory lane for the first time in the Chase at Martinsville. Johnson dominated the race and he is on the verge of dominating the championship run. Johnson not only won the race but he surpassed Brad Keselowski for the championship lead. Johnson is starting to look like the Johnson that won five straight championships and dominated the final races in each of his championship winning Chases. Johnson has caught some momentum and he won’t be giving the momentum up anytime soon.
Brad Keselowski avoided a disastrous day by having a somewhat different pit strategy and moving up through the field swiftly. Keselowski started the race thirty second and at one point in the race he was the leader. Keselowski got himself a much needed top ten finish. Keselowski avoided what could have been a major blow to his championship chances. Keselowski now trails Johnson in the point’s standings by two points. Keselowski and Johnson are starting to become the Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart of last season. It will be a dog fight until the final lap in Homestead and Keselowski will be keeping up with Johnson until then.
The only championship contender that essentially remained still in the standings was Clint Bowyer. Bowyer gained a position in the point’s standings but he lost a point. The misfortunes of fellow Chaser Denny Hamlin allowed Bowyer to move up into the third in the Chase standings. Bowyer hasn’t been known to perform well at the next few tracks but he will need to show some true championship performance in the next three races if he wants to compete for the championship come Homestead. Bowyer will need some luck and great finishes in the final three races if he wants to keep up with and beat Keselowski and Johnson for the championship.
Denny Hamlin had a terrible run at Martinsville and that has just about taken him out of championship contention. Hamlin’s bad day started early in the race when he was issued a speeding penalty and then his day got worse and worse. Hamlin then suffered some power issues and his No.11 car started having off and on power for multiple laps before he brought out the caution. Hamlin would go to garage under the caution and his team would attempt to fix his car. Hamlin eventually returned to the track, multiple laps down. Hamlin ended up placing thirty-third. Hamlin has now fallen to fifth in the standings and he is 49 points behind Johnson. Hamlin is now more than a full race out of first place in points. What many believed to be Hamlin’s championship season is looking like he will not hold the trophy in Homestead this season.
Three legitimate championship contenders remain in Sprint Cup title contention. Johnson, Keselowski and Bowyer will be battling it out for the championship for the next three races. Johnson has the championship experience but Keselowski and Bowyer will be attempting to take down the five time champion and his experience. Texas will be a tough beast to conquer this weekend and the remaining championship contenders will look to take a big ‘ol Texas victory.