SwingTime: “It’s Not Over Yet,” Martin Tells Johnson

The points race tightened up

Jimmie Johnson lost valuable points in his bid for a fourth consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship (photo courtesy: Tom Pennington, Getty Images Sport)

Chase Race 8 began with Jimmie Johnson holding a 184-point lead in the race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22. But when Johnson crashed on Lap 3 at Texas, Mark Martin seized the opportunity with a fourth-place finish that shaved 111 points off of his second-place deficit.

Next up, the Sprint Cup contenders head to Phoenix for Chase Race 9, where Martin will look to put another dent in Johnson’s goal of an unprecedented fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Series Championship title, to be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 22.

Four drivers—Martin, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart—sit within 178 points of Johnson and the Nov. 22 Sprint Cup Championship in Miami. Phenomenal seats are still available for the Championship; click here or call (866) 409-RACE.

“It’s still a respectable lead,” said Johnson. “Seventy-three [points] with two to go is a good position to be in, [but] I hate that we gave up all theses points tonight.”

Indeed, the maximum points a driver can make up in one race is 161 points, and Martin got more than two-thirds of that at Texas alone. He’s now got two more shots—Phoenix and Homestead-Miami—at shaking his four-times-a-bridesmaid label.

“The race is still on for all of us,” said Martin. “It is so much fun to drive the race car.” At Texas for Chase Race 8, points-leader, Johnson was coming out of Turn 2 on the third lap when Sam Hornish got loose and made contact. Johnson scraped the outside wall and appeared to save his car before he was hit again by Hornish. That sent the No. 48 Chevrolet hard into the inside wall.

Johnson made his way to the garage, where crew members worked feverishly to replace the front and rear suspensions of his car. In fact, it looked like a makeshift body shop, as crew members of Hendrick-teammates Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were helping out the No. 48 team.

Johnson rejoined the race at the halfway point but by that time already had relinquished 91 points to his closest pursuers, which included Martin, Gordon and South Florida-resident Juan Pablo Montoya. When it was all said and done, Martin’s fourth place finish cut the points gap to 73, as Busch took the checkered flag. Four drivers—Martin, Gordon, Busch and Stewart—sit within 178 points of Johnson and the Nov. 22 Sprint Cup Championship in Miami.

Said Martin: “We can go head-to-head with them [Johnson and crew], and there’s no reason to think that we can’t run strong at Homestead[-Miami Speedway]….There can be swings in the points; there’s two races left.”

Just one race remains before the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship 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.

South Florida Get Ready for the NASCAR Hauler Parade Nov. 18

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