Well, well, well ... what have we here? Looks like the Drive For Five has become the Three-For-All! (You can thank me when ESPN runs that line into the ground over the next month.)
We knew Jimmie Johnson was going to run well at Martinsville. We knew Denny Hamlin could run well at Martinsville. What we didn't know was that Kevin Harvick could pull out his best-ever finish at Martinsville, or that Johnson could look so vulnerable in those long runs.
(Aside #1: If you ever needed any more proof that the whole "debris cautions" thing is a scheme by NASCAR to make the ends of races more interesting, this race carved that in stone. NASCAR knew full well the public opinion about the late yellows, and knew exactly how it would look if they threw a caution for a hot dog wrapper. As a result, they let two cars smoke and spin out without throwing a yellow that almost certainly would have doomed Hamlin by allowing Vader to catch up. Me, I'd like to have seen just how much they were going to allow. Five-car pileup? Minivan parked on the track? Car-swallowing pothole? We'll never know.)
Anyway, we — oh, hang on, that reminds me. Cue the next aside:
(Aside #2: I have to tip my cap to Martinsville. After busting on the track last week, I'm happy to concede that this delivered one of the better race of the last couple months. Were it not for the driving skills of Hamlin and Harvick, this would've been a pileup of automotive carnage, and the tension in the air as those guys tried pass after pass was palpable.)
So now the difference between Johnson and Hamlin is just six points. Six. That's the kind of deficit that can be made up on the backstretch of the final lap at Homestead. And Harvick is only 62 points back, which can be nearly made up by finishing an average of just three places ahead of Johnson every week. Granted, that's a tall order, but still ... the possibility that Johnson gets caught up in a 'Dega Big One and finishes in, say, 15th suddenly makes this coming weekend that much more compelling.
First off, we get to see a Chase that actually has some meaning in November, which is nice. Next, we may get to see a new champion for the first time since 2005, which is also nice. And finally, we get to see how Jimmie Johnson reacts to adversity. Sure, he may win again, but he's going to earn this one.
So, your turn. Will Johnson be able to hold off the Dueling H's, or are we headed for a new champion? Have your say.
- Jimmie Johnson