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Minter: Stats Give Martin Hope

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 19 2009
The parade of haulers crosses over Biscayne Bay, going from Miami to South Beach on Wednesday..  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

The parade of haulers crosses over Biscayne Bay, going from Miami to South Beach on Wednesday. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Some Thursday NASCAR observations:

Now it’s down to Champions Week at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where in some years there have been nail-biting points races to be decided. Not this year.

The one last big question remaining to be answered this Sprint Cup season is whether Mark Martin can overcome the 108 points that separate him from his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, who is poised to become the first NASCAR driver ever to win four straight championships.

According to NASCAR’s statisticians, it’s not only possible, it’s been done before – nine times, most recently two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway where Martin made up 111 when Johnson crashed early and finished 38th.

No stats were provided on the likelihood of lightning striking twice in the same place, so to speak.

Martin’s the only driver still in the running for the title, as Jeff Gordon will be officially eliminated once the race starts, the other nine drivers in the Chase having done what looks like a synchronized swoon compared to the three Hendrick Motorsports drivers at the top of the chart.

When it comes to racing in the Chase, Johnson has changed the way teams once pursued championships. There was a time that consistent finishes somewhere in the top 10 were plenty to take a title, but Johnson has been winning his titles in large part by winning races and leading lots of laps.

He has 18 wins in Chase races since the format was adopted in 2004. His closest challengers, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, have just six apiece.

With all the attention being focused on Johnson and Martin, as well as the skirmishes between Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin and a few others, another great season by Kyle Busch is getting overlooked in some quarters.

Although Busch missed the cut for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and just barely, he still has a chance to tie or break his 21-win performance of 2008. He has 19 victories – four in Cup, eight in Nationwide and seven in trucks – heading into Homestead, where he’s entered in all three races.

When Busch officially takes the Nationwide Series title by starting Saturday’s 300-miler, he’ll become the eighth different champ in the past 10 seasons as only Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick have won twice in that span. He’ll also be the 21st different winner since the series took its current form 27 years ago, and he’s the fifth rookie of the year  – he won in 2004 – to go on and win the championship.

Busch also has a chance to give his truck team owner Billy Ballew his first title. Ballew, who has used Busch and several other drivers in his No. 51 Toyota, is 60 points behind Kevin and Delana Harvick, whose driver Ron Hornaday Jr. already has clinched his fourth Camping World Truck Series championship.

Also at Homestead, Mike Bliss can cap off a remarkable accomplishment by finishing in the top five in the Nationwide standings despite losing his ride midway through the year and driving for five other owners in the remaining races. Ironically he’ll be back in his original ride, the No. 1 Chevrolet owned by James Finch, for the finale.

Bliss has finished fifth once before, in 2004, his best effort to date.

On NASCAR’s media site, there’s a note about the points battle on the other side of the Sprint Cup chart, the one for the 35th position in the owners points standings, the last one that is guaranteed a starting spot for next year’s Daytona 500 as well as the four races after that.

But the note also points out the problem with the guaranteed starting spot rules. The owner of the No. 34 Chevrolet that holds that spot is listed as Teresa Earnhardt. But she’s not really the car owner. She sold the points earned by one of her cars, the now idled No. 15, in 2008 to Bob Jenkins and his Front Row Motorsports

Points should be earned and used by those who race for them, not bought and sold like a commodity.

– Rich Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 19 2009
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