Closest. Race. Ever.

Junior Comes to Life at Martinsvillle

NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 90 laps and finished seventh, to the delight of the crowd (photo courtesy: Geoff Burke, Getty Images Sport)

In Chase Race 6 of 10 en route to Ford Championship Weekend in Miami (Nov. 19-21), Denny Hamlin was pretty near perfect Sunday at Martinsville. And with his victory, Hamlin closed to within six points of leader Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the 2010 Sprint Cup Championship. It is the closest Chase race ever, with just three races remaining before the Championship-finale Ford 400 in South Florida on Nov. 21; tickets are available here, starting at $55.
 
“Who said it was over?” said Hamlin, who cruised into the lead 30 laps from race end and went on to earn his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season. “I told you it wasn’t over.”

Kevin Harvick finished third in Chase Race 6 to gain 15 points on Johnson and remain in striking distance for the Sprint Cup Championship, just 62 behind the four-time defending Champion.
 
Just three races remain before the Championship-finale Ford 400 in South Florida on Nov. 21. Lock in your tickets NOW to see Championship racing at Championship value: Tickets start at $55 and are available by calling (866) 409-RACE or by logging on to THEChampionshipTrack.com. Parking is free, and fans are welcome to bring in their own food and drink in a 6x6x12 cooler, with unlimited re-entry to the Speedway to allow for restocking from tailgates.

Chase points leader Johnson salvaged a fifth-place finish in Chase Race 6, but Hamlin narrowed the lead to a mere six markers—the closest running order with four races to go since the Chase for the Sprint Cup started in 2004. Johnson leads with 5,998 points, Hamlin is second with 5,992 and third-place finisher Harvick is third with 5,936.

"This is a come-from-behind victory," said Hamlin, reflecting on early race gremlins that dropped him in the order. "I think we may have had a tire equalize, and I was very worried, seeing how far we were dropping. But we just kept on digging and making up spots. And we just had the best car at the end….This is probably the most gratifying win I've ever had."

Fan favorite Mark Martin—among the many NASCAR stars who will be appearing in fan-hospitality areas during Ford Championship Weekend in Miami—had a storybook race, coming from 21st to second place with a damaged car. Running mid-pack on Lap 225, he tangled with A.J. Allmendinger, with the former ending up in the wall. After pitting for extensive work, he lost two laps, but that only made him battle harder. Once regaining the lead lap, Martin picked off car after car, gaining the runner-up spot with five laps to go.

"It was a great run for us," said Martin. "When we got behind, I thought we were going to finish 28th, but with another 20 laps it may have been an even better race. I started running out of brakes early, and during the last 100 laps the car was fast but the brakes were soft. This is what I live for."

Chase contender Kyle Busch battled with Johnson to earn a fourth-place finish.

"We fought hard and even though we were a little bit off, we came back and I am proud of my crew," said Busch. "Pit strategy got us up front and kept it there. Overall, it was a good day and we did our best to chip away at points.

“Jimmie and I had a heated battle for a little bit; I was just trying to get by him, and he was trying to protect his points lead. I kept leaning on him, as I was faster than he was, but once I got by him I managed to pull away from him."

"It was a good day for us," said Johnson, who persevered for fifth place. "We wanted to finish higher, but a Top 5 finish was a good goal. I am happy to be still leading but wish it had gone the other way for us.

“Denny stepped up with all the [boastful] talk, but there's a lot of racing left. I am really trying not to be emotionally attached to things until we get out of Talladega, as so much happens there."

NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 90 laps and finished seventh, to the delight of the crowd.

“We have to run way better than this,” said Earnhardt Jr. “I’ve been coming here ever since I quit wreckin’, and we get the right cooling on the front end [and] I can come in here and get a Top 10 unless we have a major major issue in the setup.”

Carl Edwards , Jeff Burton and Brad Keselowski rounded out the Top 10 finishers.

Four-time Champion Jeff Gordon—seeking to accomplish his Drive for 5 at the only track at which he’s never entered Sprint Cup Victory Lane, Homestead-Miami Speedway—ran well but ended up two laps back in 20th place after being forced into a wall by Kurt Busch, who finished 16th.

"Well, our Championship hopes have taken a big hit the last couple of weeks,” said Gordon. “So, for us it's…about going out and getting the best finishes that we can and trying to win races.”

Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, Oct. 31 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN-TV, MRN Radio)—Chase Race 7 of 10 en route to Ford Championship Weekend. Just three races remain before the Championship-finale Ford 400 in South Florida on Nov. 21. Lock in your tickets NOW to see Championship racing at Championship value: Tickets start at $55 and are available by calling (866) 409-RACE or by logging on to THEChampionshipTrack.com. Parking is free, and fans are welcome to bring in their own food and drink in a 6x6x12 cooler, with unlimited re-entry to the Speedway to allow for restocking from tailgates.

On the Move: South Florida’s Montoya

Montoya at Martinsville

“We’ll move on and hope for better results at Talladega.”

--Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished 19th in Chase Race 6 en route to Ford Championship Weekend (Nov. 19-21) on his “home track”

In Chase Race 6 of 10 en route to Ford Championship Weekend on his “home track” of Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21), South Florida resident Juan Pablo Montoya qualified in the fifth position and ran as high as fourth before brake problems plagued the No. 42 Target car.

For tickets to see Montoya race for a Ford 400 victory on his home turf—as well as an exclusive meet-and-greet opportunity with Montoya himself--call (866) 409-RACE, log on to THEChampionshipTrack.com or click here.

With three practice sessions and a strong qualifying effort in the books, Montoya and the Target team looked to better their best finish of third at the “paperclip” track. When the green flag waved at Martinsville, Montoya looked to conserve his brakes and run a clean race at the track notorious for beating and banging. Within the first 25 laps, however, concerns over handling and brakes were radioed in. Adjustments were made, and with solid pit strategy the No. 42 would spend the majority of the race up in the Top 15.

But with 100 laps remaining, the brake problems increased and Montoya did his best to hang on to track position under a long green flag run. When the race concluded, the No. 42 Target Chevrolet was credited with a 19th-place finish.

“I really like racing at Martinsville; this is a fun track,” Montoya said post-race. “We had some brake concerns early on, and as the race went on I completely lost the front brakes. It’s frustrating, but what can you do? We’ll move on and hope for better results at Talladega.”

Just three races remain before the Championship-finale Ford 400 in South Florida on Nov. 21. Lock in your tickets NOW to see Montoya race for a Ford 400 victory on his home turf—as well as an exclusive meet-and-greet opportunity with Montoya himself—by calling (866) 409-RACE, log on to THEChampionshipTrack.com or click here.

Next up for Montoya and the Sprint Cup drivers is Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, Oct. 31 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN-TV, MRN Radio)—Chase Race 7 of 10 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 19-21). For tickets starting at $55, call (866) 409-RACE or log on to THEChampionshipTrack.com. Parking for Ford Championship Weekend is free, and fans are welcome to bring in their own food and drink in a 6x6x12 cooler—with unlimited re-entry to the Speedway to allow for restocking from tailgates.

Follow Montoya on Twitter:

@JPMontoya

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