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Race Day: Can Hamlin Short Circuit Jimmie?

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 24 2010

Denny Hamlin will be hoping to spray soda for a third straight race at Martinsville this afternoon. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship is getting a familiar feel to it. A Jimmie Johnson feel to it.

He is the points leader with five races to go and today, he races at a track where he has won five times in the last five years – Martinsville Speedway.

Some think having a driver win five straight Cup championships would be a good thing for the sport. Some think it would be a bad thing.

Here is what a select group of drivers said this weekend about the Johnson, his incredible run and the effect it all has on NASCAR:

Carl Edwards, No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford: “It’s a sport, so the best man wins.  That’s how it goes.  If Jimmie is the fastest and he wins, that’s okay.  It’s a sport.  What is the other option? What do we do?  We go out, we have the rules set, we all race under the same rules, we race at the race track and when it’s over, whoever wins, wins.  Heavy is the head that wears the crown.  People are always gonna resent a certain level of success.  I respect Jimmie for what he’s done, more importantly I respect him as a person.  He’s a decent guy to compete with.  I really enjoy racing against him.  Win, lose or draw he comes over and shakes your hand afterwards. You get beat by a guy like that because he did better than you that day, that’s just the way it is.”

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “It’s an incredible thing that they’re doing and you’ve got to respect that. I think we’ll look back at it somewhere down the road if they pull this off and go for six next year, it’s history making. It’s hard to appreciate it when you’re in it for any of us—even them. It’s easy to say that you want somebody else to win, but what they’re proving right now is that if somebody else wants to win, they’ve got to come and fight really hard for it. They’ve got to be a better team, and right now I have not seen a better team out there but anything could still happen and I think that it’s easy to say, ‘sure, we’d like to see someone else,’ when someone else has won four years in a row.”

Clint Bowyer, No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet: “The public can sit in the stands and watch him do it for four years in a row—if you think about it, that’s a long time, that is a lot of races. They have a reason to think that.  Believe it or not, they (Johnson and his team) are pretty good at it.  I hope somebody beats them for my sake and for being in this sport; and I love Jimmie Johnson, he’s a great guy.  I enjoy hanging out with him off the race track. I had more fun with him than I’ve probably had with a lot of racers at Eldora and places like that; but by no means do I want him to win this championship. I think it’s bad for everybody.”

Fast facts

Race: Tums Fast Relief 500

When: Sunday, 1:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET (prerace starts at noon on ESPN2)

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Race distance: 500 laps/263 miles

Estimated pit window: 140-150 laps

Track layout: .526-mile oval

Banking: 12 degrees in corners

2009 winner: Denny Hamlin

2009 polesitter: Ryan Newman

Today’s polesitter: Denny Hamlin

Martyville shootout

Today’s race is being viewed as a match race between Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, the drivers who have won the last eight races at Martinsville.

Driver Jeff Burton was asked about that this weekend.

“They, as of late, have been the two best, there is no doubt in it,” Burton said. “They both have an extreme amount of confidence going into the race about their ability. I read some quotes from Denny Hamlin this morning, he pretty much made it clear how confident he was. I think it is kind of a shootout. I will say that it is motivation for everyone to go be one of the guys that knocks the two of them off especially at this race. Numbers don’t lie and those are the two that have been doing it the best most recently.”

Is it good for the sport?

“I think it is good for the sport,” Burton said. “Anytime you can match the favorites against each other head-to-head, I think that is always good for the sport.”

Good night, everybody

Add Jeff Gordon to the list of drivers who are warming their arms up to throw in the towel on this year’s Chase.

Gordon was asked if he thinks he’ done.

“Yeah, unless some major things happen I think we are. I know it’s not something that I’m thinking about. We’re approaching the races the same way. It doesn’t change how we do that. But I can’t say that we’ve got this weight on our shoulders of the pressure of achampionship. I feel like in some ways, that’s been taken off of us because I think we’re too many points back.”

Trivia time

Who is the last driver other than Denny Hamlin or Jimmie Johnson to win a race at Martinsville?

Oh, those mind games

There has been a lot of talk about mind games in Sprint Cup in recent weeks. You know, psyching the other teams and drivers out.

Jeff Gordon was asked about the effectiveness of the mind games.

“You know what? Fast race cars are the best kind of mind games you can have,” the four-time champion said. “In all my experience I think that’s what speaks the loudest and what we’ve been able to utilize; just going out there and performing. That’s the way I’ve always looked at it. But in some tight battles I think the guys that play the mind games are the ones that feel the weakest; you know the ones that are trying to compensate for something that they’re lacking. That’s my opinion.”

Track tidbits

Most wins: 15, Richard Petty

Most poles: 8, Darrell Waltrip

Most top-fives: 30, Richard Petty

Most top-10s: 37, Richard Petty

Most lead changes: 25, in 1980

Fewest lead changes: 1, four times (most recently i 1961)

Most leaders: 14, in 2001

Most cautions: 21, in 2007

Most caution laps: 127, in 2007

Fewest caution laps: 3, in 1971

Fewest cars on lead lap: 1, 27 times (most recently in 1986)

Fewest cars running at finish: 4, in 1951

Closest margin of victory: .065 seconds

Greatest margin of victory: 6.37 seconds

The old switch-a-roo

Team owner Richard Childress, this week, has transplanted Clint Bowyer’s crew over to Kevin Harvick, who still has a decent shot at winning the championship.

Bowyer was asked about the move.

“There is no question that my team is arguably the best team at RCR—they’ve been together the longest,” Bowyer said. “With us being out of the championship deal; Kevin is the last shot at RCR at basically bringing a championship home. We owe it to everybody involved—all the employees who try to bring that championship back home.  Certainly I’m going to miss them, but we’ve got a brand new racecar built for here, it’s an exact replica—as close as we could get it—to the New Hampshire car so it should be fast again.  I think we can win with his pit crew as well.  There is certainly no slouch with what he had, and if he needed my crew to be better I was going to give it to him.  I owe it to him as a teammate.”

Asked if the switch is permanent, Bowyer said: “We’ll see. Obviously if he is out of the championship contention then I’ll get them back, but as long as he’s in that thing and he can win a championship for RCR, why not?”

Up next

The Amp Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Some are calling it the X Factor Race because of the wild nature of plate racing at the 2.66 mile, high-banked track.

Tony Stewart this week was asked to fast forward to next week and assess the Talladega race. He said, “I don’t know. I’m not ready to fast-forward next week. I’m still at Martinsville.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 24 2010
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