“I'm racing my teammates right now for this Championship”

Montoya climbs to fourth in the Championship after a weird race at Talladega

Montoya climbed to fourth in the points standings for the 2009 Sprint Cup Championship, which will be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22 (photo courtesy: Rusty Jarrett, Getty Images Sport)

NASCAR Chase Race No. 7 at Talladega was tabbed as the wildcard in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 22. One strategy previously employed at ’Dega: Gain as many points as possible prior to this race, hold your breath at Alabama’s super speedway, and resume a more traditional strategy when NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship resumes with stops in Texas and Phoenix before Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And Championship points leader Jimmie Johnson pretty much worked this strategy to a T, lying back at the end of the pack for almost the entire race, steering clear of two late-race crashes and emerging with a sixth-place finish when the dust settled. His closest competitors, meanwhile, all were caught up in the late-race mess: Juan Pablo Montoya finished 19th, Jeff Gordon 20th, Mark Martin 28th and Tony Stewart 35th. Jamie McMurray took the checkered flag for his first win since Daytona in July 2007.

With the second-best finish of the Top 5 Cup contenders, Montoya climbed to fourth in the points standings for the 2009 Sprint Cup Championship, which will be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22.

With his sixth-place finish, the driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Impala SS extended his lead in the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup to 184 points over Martin, who was the victim of the final accident of the day. Gordon remains third in the points order—just eight points down to Martin—while Montoya moved to fourth in the Chase points with three races to go.

“I’m fine,” Martin said post-race. “It was just a wreck, and I hope everybody enjoyed the show. Congratulations to Jamie McMurray.”

"I'm racing my teammates right now for this Championship, and the No. 5 car won at Phoenix, Jeff won at Texas,” Johnson said of early 2009 results at the only two tracks remaining on the schedule prior to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami. “I don't want to spot these guys any points.

“I hate to see so many tore up cars and the big wreck that took place,” Johnson said after tip-toeing his way through the carnage. “We were conservative all day long, but Chad's [Knaus, crew chief] decision to take fuel—there were just a few of us that took fuel—and we had the wreck and the red flag. At that point guys just started running out of fuel….We went from 25th up to, I think, 11th before we took the green.

“From where we were with the red flag to where we finished. I'm still in shock. I can't believe that it worked out. I can't believe that that many guys ran out of fuel and put themselves in that position.”

Overcoming a deficit in the final three races is not out of the realm of possibility. In 1992, Alan Kulwicki overcame a 144-point deficit in the last four races of the season to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. A Hollywood scriptwriter could not have penned a more exciting season finale in 1992, when Davey Allison needed only to finish sixth or better in the last race to clinch the NASCAR Sprint Cup title. In that finale, he suffered an early crash and Bill Elliott drove to his fifth victory of the season, while Kulwicki finished second and collected bonus points for leading the most laps—which led to his winning the Sprint Cup Championship by a scant 10 points, the narrowest margin in NASCAR history.

Johnson, for one, sounded like he’s familiar with this story: “I'm not going to let up and lose focus to the job I need to do and allow the Championship to be in the forefront of my mind until it's mathematically locked [up]. I can lose 165 points next week if I miss a shift and blow the engine at the start of the Texas race and Mark has a perfect day….

“So we're in a better position, for sure. Our strategy might change some moving forward until we're [sure] we can get to Homestead.”

In his pursuit of a historical and unprecedented fourth Sprint Cup Championship, Johnson is the biggest challenge remaining for Martin, Montoya, Gordon and Stewart in their hopes of hoisting the Sprint Cup at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. And just two races remain before it all culminates Nov. 22 at Montoya’s “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway. Tickets for the Sprint Cup Championship start at just $55 and are available by clicking here or by calling (866) 409-RACE.

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