2009-10-29 / Sports

Hamlin Is Martinsville Winner

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Denny Hamlin Denny Hamlin MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Denny Hamlin outlasted Jimmie Johnson Sunday at Martinsville for his third Sprint Cup win of the season. Hamlin led three times for 206 laps of the 500-lap race.

“I’ve got to thank all my fans for sticking with me after those last two races where we weren’t able to finish,” said Hamlin. “There’s hope. The last two weeks are in the past.

“On those restarts I knew those guys behind me were going to be aggressive, but we just had the best car. The 48 didn’t do anything he shouldn’t have, and protected his points lead as well.”

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 finished second and increased his lead in the Chase by 28 points.

“The car just lacked a little bit of forward bite,” said Johnson. “The back of the car was turning a little too much. Denny had the best car on that last run. I wish we could have won, but there is nothing bad about second when you don’t have the best car.”

Juan Montoya finished third and moved up one spot, from sixth to fifth in Chase points.

“Here is a place you don’t want to wreck anybody,” said Juan Montoya. “Payback is really bad, but you’ve got to respect everyone. We did what we had to do, and we had a good race.”

Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Kevin Harvick, and Tony Stewart were the remaining top-10 finishers.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to struggle. He had tire problems two different times, including a blown tire that caused him to hit the outside wall during lap 130. He finished 29th, one lap down.

Top-12 Chase leaders with 4 remaining races: 1. Johnson-6098, 2. Martin-5980, 3. J. Gordon-5948, 4. Stewart-5902, 5. Montoya-5898, 6. Kurt Busch-5861, 7. Newman- 5786, 8. Biffle-5748, 9. Hamlin- 5746, 10. Edwards-5685, 11. Kahne-5659, 12. Vickers-5568

With four races left, the battle for this year’s Chase championship is between Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon. The other nine drivers are out of it.

Top10-Nationwide Series leaders: 1. Kyle Busch-5179, 2. Edwards-4964, 3. Keselowski- 4922, 4. Leffler-4184, 5. Allgaier- 3743, 6. Bliss-3684., 7. S. Wallace- 3626, 8. Keller-3574, 9. Gaughan- 3563, 10. Annett-3298

Top-10 Camping World Truck Series leaders: 1. Hornaday-3375, 2. Crafton-3151, 3. Skinner-3049, 4. Bodine-2815, 5. Scott-2805, 6. Braun-2797, 7. Peters-2768, 8. Sauter-2762, 9. Starr-2694, 10. Crawford-2694

NASCAR Perspective: One of the biggest issues NASCAR has been fighting the last couple of years has been dwindling ratings and the failure of its chase or “playoff” system to gain better acceptance when going head-tohead with regular season NFL games and the World Series.

NASCAR remains the only sport where domination and excellence is not good. This is because of the passion and loyalty of racing fans to individual drivers.

Right now, Jimmie Johnson cannot be beat in any way. He will win his fourth championship. There is nobody who can beat him, not even his own teammates Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, are a match for him and his team.

I do not think Johnson is the greatest driver in NASCAR with the best crew chief NASCAR has ever seen, but he and his team know how to build and prepare the best car on the track nearly every weekend. Being a Hendrick Racing team they have an unlimited budget to buy whatever it takes.

I did not think winning a Cup title for a fourth time in a row is good for the sport, but Johnson and his team have mastered NASCAR’s current Chase format. They peak at the right time each year and then take advantage of NASCAR’s playoff format to crush the other championship contenders. The rules of the new car were supposed to keep any one driver from dominating, but that hasn’t been the case with the 48 team.

After finishing second to Johnson two weeks ago at Charlotte, Matt Kenseth said, “I don’t have anything for him.”

Winning a fourth title will be a great accomplishment for Johnson, but it’s probably about the worst thing that could happen to the Cup racing in light of the backlash generated by the Chase and the new car.

If racing was better in the new car and Johnson was battling door to door with his challengers for victories, it would be one thing. But when he wins, it’s usually by a wide margin.

“When you get inside the Chase, it seems like nobody really has anything for them,” former Cup driver Ricky Rudd told Kenny Bruce of Scene Daily. “While some teams may contend for wins during the course of a race, when it gets down to the later stages, it’s like, ‘OK, guys, it’s time to go.’ And Jimmie seems to flip a switch and he’s gone.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, but you can’t fault the Hendrick organization. They’re doing what they can do with their resources, and they’re doing a great job. … It’s as if they’re a half a year ahead of everybody.”

Critics of the Chase have pointed out that Johnson would have only one title under the traditional, season-long cumulative points system and would still be trailing Tony Stewart in this year’s standings under the old rating system.

So what must NASCAR do to shake things up in order to get the ratings back up and fans returning to the sport?

As long as the Chase format and present Cup car remains as it is, don’t expect much to change. Within one or two years, another team, probably another Hendrick car, will find a better car setup, and then they will dominate for awhile.

NASCAR is not in the habit of quick changes, so as long as the current racing format remains as it is today, Johnson or one of his Hendrick teammates is going to have the dominant car.

And the ratings and fan interest will remain about the same or continue to drop.

Weekend racing: The Camping World Trucks and Sprint Cup cars will be at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR’s longest track (2.66-miles). The Nationwide cars have an off weekend.

Sat., Oct. 31, Camping World Trucks Mountain Dew 250, race 22 of 25; starting time: 3:30 p.m. (EDT); TV: Speed Channel.

Sun., Nov. 1, Sprint Cup AMP Energy 500, race 33 of 36; starting time: Noon (EDT); TV: ABC.

Racing trivia question: How many Cup championships did Cale Yarbrough win?

Last week’s question: Will two-time NASCAR champion Terry Labonte come out of retirement for the 2010 cup season? Answer. Terry has said he would like to run a partial Cup schedule in 2010. With his past champion provisionals, he could help some team not in the top 35; get into races they might not otherwise be able to qualify for.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodgesnews@earthlink.net

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