“I think there’s going to be some chaos”
Martin struggled to a 31st-place finish at Atlanta in March. He left that race 35th in the points race. With two races left until the Chase, Martin finds himself in 10th(photo courtesy: Chris Graythen, Getty Images Sport)
No driver fell out of the Top 12 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings during Race 24 at Bristol Motor Speedway, but plenty changed among drivers in position to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship– to be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22.
Daytona resident Mark Martin joined Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle as drivers to gain two positions in the Chase for the Championship standings—which will be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. Martin opted to race for the win without making contact with Kyle Busch at Bristol, grabbing a second-place finish and a climb in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship standings.
Making his 1,000th career start, Martin chose to race Busch the way he felt the young driver would have raced him – without resorting to any kind of nudge. Martin led the most laps at Bristol (240) and seemed to enjoy the spirited battle for the win.
"Kyle gave me room, and I didn't get the pass," Martin said. "We were both racing hard for it. That inside was tough, and I took my shot at it. I just about slid up into him and wiped us both out.”
Martin moved up two spots to 10th in the Championship standings and widened his cushion on 13th place from 12 to 60 points heading to Atlanta. A Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22 would be his first in 27 years of trying.
Even with the second-place finish, Martin remains tied atop the Chase “reset” standings—his four victories would pair him alongside Busch (if both qualify in the Top 12) at the top of the “playoff” seedings if the Chase kicked in after Race 24 (instead of Race 26). Martin is chasing the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship of his heralded 27-year career, while Juan Pablo Montoya seeks to become the first non-American-born driver ever to qualify for NASCAR’s “playoffs.”
Miami resident Montoya ran as high as second before cutting a tire with just under 50 laps to go at Bristol, which forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop. He finished 25th and slid from seventh to ninth in the Championship standings but remains in the heart of the Championship standings, to be decided at his “home track” on Nov. 22 following the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His lead over 13th-place Busch entering Race 25 at Atlanta is 64 points.
“I had a great car all day,” Montoya said. “It is really too bad that I got a flat late in the race. Brian [Pattie, crew chief] and everyone that works on the Chevrolet did an amazing job. It is not the finish we wanted, but I think we are still ninth and just need to bounce back in Atlanta.”
Points standings certainly will be on the minds of the drivers at Atlanta, as there are only two races remaining before the 10-race shootout to the Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22 is underway, and double-file restarts may dictate who comes away with Championship hopes intact vs. those who get put on life support.
Since their introduction prior to the race at Pocono, double-file restarts have added extra elements of drama and intrigue to NASCAR races and quickly become a fan favorite. The broad racing surface at Atlanta allows drivers to race side-by-side, so double-file restarts may play a role in determining the winner at Race 25.
Consider that Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his first consecutive Top 10 finishes of the year with a third-place run at Michigan followed by a ninth-place result at Bristol. In 20 career Sprint Cup races at Atlanta, he has tallied one win, eight Top 5 and 10 Top 10 finishes.
“I think there’s going to be some chaos [at Atlanta],” Earnhardt, Jr. continued. “With the track being wide and providing a lot of room, I think on the restarts you’re going to see a lot of three-wide through Turns 1 and 2. It will be something you have to be concerned with, but it will be fun.”
Just two races remain before the Chase for the Championship begins, with the Champion to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. And the BEST seats are available NOW for Ford Championship Weekend, featuring the series-crowning Championship finales of all three of NASCAR’s top circuits: the Camping World Truck Series (Friday), Nationwide Series (Nov. 21) and Sprint Cup Series (Sunday). For Friday night’s Truck Championship, all kids 12 and under will be admitted FREE; on Saturday for the Nationwide Championship, all kids 12 and under are just $15; and for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Championship, adult tickets start at just $55. Click here to view great seats available for each race.