“Smoke” Rises at Martinsville

Great Save at Martinsville

Pole sitter Carl Edwards overcame what could have been an awful day to finish ninth and maintain his lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Edwards was a lap down at one time and was mired outside of the Top 20 much of the day (photo courtesy: Jared C. Tilton, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

Tony Stewart made a daring move to the high side of leader Jimmie Johnson with three laps to go to win at Martinsville Speedway. The path to the championship, which will be decided at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20, may have become just a little clearer Sunday. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Johnson had the preferred inside line on a restart on Lap 498 but Stewart managed to make the difficult outside pass going into the first turn and held on for his third victory in the 2011 NASCAR Chase For The Sprint Cup Championship.

''We've had one of those up-and-down years and we're having a run in this Chase and now we're hungry,'' Stewart said after his third victory in the first seven Chase races moved him within eight points of leader Carl Edwards. ''We're hungry for this. I feel like our mindset into these next three weeks, we've been nice all year to a lot of guys, given guys a lot of breaks.

“Carl Edwards had better be real worried,” Stewart said. “That’s all I’ve got to say. He’s not going to sleep for the next three weeks.”

Johnson wound up second followed by Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and last year’s Championship runner-up, Denny Hamlin. Johnson, for much of the day, looked like he might be the one making a huge gain in the points race, especially as Edwards floundered in the mid-20s and wasn't getting any better. Johnson, who started the day seventh in points, moved into sixth with his second-place run, but is still 43 points off the lead in search of his sixth consecutive championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

“Yea, I just could not get away from him on the restart,” Johnson said. “He hung on strong on the outside, and I was more worried about clipping a curb when he was running me tight and not take him out of a championship situation, minding my P’s and Q’s. I just wanted to do the right thing and unfortunately got beat in the process.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Carl Edwards overcame what could have been an awful day to finish ninth and maintain his lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Edwards was a lap down at one time and was mired outside of the Top 20 much of the day. Edwards was a popular preseason pick to unseat five-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson this fall when NASCAR crowns a Champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Edwards started on the pole after qualifying was rained out and the field set by the point standings. But he swiftly dropped back in the field and eventually lost two laps.

''He's [Stewart] wound up. He won the race. We'll see what happens at Texas,'' Edwards said. ''I told you guys I thought he was one of the guys that could win this race and be a guy that you'd have to beat for the championship and I think he's proving that right now. But yeah, we'll have fun.

''We'll go race hard. They're going to have to race us, too. I'm excited about the next three races.''

Stewart hadn't won a race all season and didn't list himself as a championship contender when asked to handicap the field before NASCAR's 10-race playoffs got going.

Now, his third championship is there for the taking. Stewart last won the championship in 2005 and remains as the only driver to win in a title in the Chase-era as well as before the Chase format started.

Stewart moved from 19 points behind leader Edwards and in fourth place to just eight points behind in second.

Martinsville wreaked havoc on championship dreams. Other Chase contenders had very tough days including Edwards’ teammate Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski. They started the day second and third in points respectively, and both were running near the front all day until getting caught up in late accidents. Kenseth finished 31st and Keselowski wound up 17th.

It seemed especially harsh for Kenseth, who was doing uncharacteristically well until tangling with Kyle Busch on Lap 464. Kenseth wound up in the garage.

“With Brian [Vickers] he just kept hitting me in the door,” Kenseth explained. “I mean, we’re at Martinsville and I gave him the bottom. Obviously, I’m not gonna roll over and let him go with 40 to go or whatever it was and he just kept driving in harder and harder and he slammed me in the door at least five times and just ran me up in the marbles and I was just tired of it, so I spun him out.

“I don’t know how you can’t pass somebody here without running into him every single time when he gives you the bottom and the fastest lane, but obviously he couldn’t and I was trying to get every position I could at the end of the race.”

Round 8 of the Chase is Sunday at Texas. This year, Homestead-Miami Speedway will crown NASCAR’s Champions for the 10th consecutive year during Ford Championship Weekend. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

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