Monday, November 9, 2009

Early Johnson Crash Allows Martin, Gordon to Narrow Gap in Sprint Cup Chase at Texas

Just three laps into what was likely to be another solid finish on the way to an unprecedented fourth consecutive championship for Jimmie Johnson, one nudge put an unexpected obstacle in the path of his Lowe’s team. Slight contact from the No. 77 car driven by Sam Hornish, Jr. caused Johnson’s No. 48 car to slam into the wall on the backstretch in the Dickies 500, sending shockwaves through Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday

The crash caused a frantic scene in the pit as over a dozen Hendrick Motorsports crew members worked vigorously to reassemble Johnson’s mangled car, barely after the race had begun. After over an hour of repairs to the No. 48 car, Johnson re-entered the race 129 laps behind and was able to salvage a 38th place finish, picking up critical points to keep a lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Heading into Sunday’s race, Johnson held a 184-point lead over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin, but now sits just 73 points ahead heading into Phoenix next week. Martin, who with 40 career wins but no Sprint Cup titles, is slowly making a case for himself as the best Cup driver never to win a Championship.

But with Johnson’s crash, a Martin Championship this year is not far-fetched.

Neither Martin nor teammate Jeff Gordon – who now sits just 112 points behind Johnson in Chase standings -- were able to capitalize on Johnson’s misfortune and come out on top this weekend, but both have certainly made the Chase more interesting.

In order to secure a fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Title, Johnson needs to average a fourth-place finish in the final two races of the season at Arizona and Homestead-Miami.

Meanwhile, Martin heads into Phoenix next week with a shot at his first ever Sprint Cup Title.

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