Chase hopes survive while others fade at Martinsville - - Jackson, MS

NASCAR NOTES: Chase hopes survive while others fade at Martinsville

Photo Credits: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images Photo Credits: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images
Glenn Campbell - "The Lugnut Cowboy" Glenn Campbell - "The Lugnut Cowboy"

As a new team moved to the top of the point standings, many contenders witnessed their title hopes fade at Martinsville last weekend.

Jimmie Johnson led the most laps and captured victory in the TUMS Fast Relief 500 to assume the points lead by two over Brad Keselowski with three races remaining in the 2012 championship battle.

It was Johnson's seventh win at Martinsville, which places him fourth in career wins at the paperclip-shaped track.

"The last stop gave me the lead," commented Johnson on his winning move at the last restart. "To be on the inside lane and have control of the race was huge. We executed well today on all fronts. We'll have a dogfight for these final three."

His closest challenger for the title, Keselowski, managed to limp a mediocre race car to a sixth-place finish. However, Johnson still looks for a fight to the finish.

"The next two races will tell the tale," continued Johnson on the championship battle. "Anything can happen. We could both wad it up next week and Clint Bowyer is your champion. You never know."

Speaking of Bowyer, he kept his title hopes alive with a fifth place finish and leaves Martinsville with a twenty-six point deficit to the leader.

"It is what it is," said a dejected Bowyer after the race. "It was a good day for us. I thought we had a car capable of winning. As soon as it got cool, I got a little bit tight. We lost track position when they beat us out of the pits and I never could regain it."

Bowyer was not the only driver to stay in the hunt. Kasey Kahne brought his car home in third position and stands only three points behind Bowyer.

"I still feel like I have a chance because of the way the points are," replied Kahne when asked about his title chances. "You can have a bad race. It's part of the sport. So, yes, we definitely still have a shot but, we're a ways out."

The one driver that can now say that his title hopes will have to wait another year is Denny Hamlin. His dreams of a Cup Series Championship faded away as mechanical issues took him out in the closing laps.

"It ended in disappointment," said Hamlin of his misfortunes."When these things happen, you just got to suck it up and move on. One of these days it's going to be our time. It's just not right now."

With three races left, the Chase is turning into a two-horse race between Johnson and Keselowski. However, as Johnson said, Bowyer and Kahne are just far enough away to be a concern. It would only take a slight bobble by the front runners to open the door for them to steal the title away over the closing days. They are all right when they say it will be a dogfight to the end.

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