Fantastic finish would help ease NASCAR's pain

Updated: October 5, 2009, 11:58 AM ET

Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR

The Chase could come down to Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson (48) and Mark Martin.

Is it too much to ask for this plotline to play itself out?

The 2009 Chase is shaping up as an all-Hendrick show, but if it stays this close until the end, who cares?

Mark Martin leads Jimmie Johnson by only 10 points after the first two playoff events.

Keep it up, boys. Keep battling each other for that top spot and get to Homestead-Miami Speedway with the title up for grabs.

It's the closing act Sprint Cup needs after a season of hard times.

This has been a tough year for NASCAR, as it has for the nation. The down economy has left a huge negative impact on the sport.

Attendance is down. Major sponsors left. Auto manufacturers cut back on their support while they regrouped to survive. More than 1,000 employees lost their jobs on NASCAR teams that downsized, merged or ceased to exist.

And let's not even get into the whole Jeremy Mayfield mess.

So is it too much to ask to enter the last race of a long Sprint Cup season with huge drama, where one position on the track could make the difference in winning or losing the championship?

It's the Chase scenario we've always wanted, but rarely seen. And if it is Martin and Johnson, the storylines are a dream come true for NASCAR.

Martin would try to end his three-decade frustration as racing's best-known runner-up and finally win that elusive title. And doing it at age 50 would transcend the sport, making Martin America's ageless wonder.

"We've got eight more [races] to go and all kinds of things can happen," Martin said Sunday in a postrace news conference. "I still say that there's 12 [drivers] in it and 12 can win. It might be a challenge for a couple of the teams toward the back, but you just don't have any concept of how much racing eight races is. A lot of things can happen."

Like Johnson's winning it again. A title for Johnson would place him in near-immortal status: He'd become the first man to win four consecutive Cup crowns and only the fourth driver to win more than three championships.

"An exciting thing for me is I feel like there is a lot of racing left in me and a lot of competitive racing," Johnson said Sunday after the race. "I can keep climbing that ladder and be higher up there in the record books."

It should come as no surprise that the two men at the top of the Chase standings drive for Hendrick Motorsports. Cars with Hendrick equipment, including regular-season points leader Tony Stewart and his Stewart-Haas Racing satellite operation, have dominated the season.

Hendrick cars have won 13 of 28 races, including five for Martin and four for Johnson. Martin won the first Chase race at New Hampshire and Johnson won Sunday at Dover while Martin finished second.

Hendrick teammate Jeff Gordon also had a car capable of winning Sunday until a bad pit stop near the end caused him to finish sixth.

Yes, a non-Hendrick driver still could win the title. Juan Pablo Montoya and Kurt Busch are running well, and both men would provide their own little tidbit of history.

Montoya would become the first foreign-born driver to win a Cup crown. Busch could give racing legend Roger Penske his first Cup title.

If either team beats out the Hendrick boys for the title, great, as long as they get to the end with the championship on the line.

In a year that generated so much bad news, is it really too much to ask?

Nationwide Series: Postrace dustup steals Bowyer's spotlight

Clint Bowyer earned his second Nationwide Series victory in only nine starts Saturday at Dover, giving Cup regulars 24 wins in 28 events this season.

Bowyer's victory was overshadowed by a postrace altercation between Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and their pit crews. Boys will be boys.

Keselowski is one of only two Nationwide regulars (drivers not running the full Cup schedule) to win an event this year. Keselowski has three victories and Mike Bliss has one.

Keselowski, who ranks third in the standings, easily will win the unofficial Nationwide crown as the highest-finishing driver who isn't a Cup regular.

But Kyle Busch is going to win his first Nationwide title, a consolation prize in a year when he failed to make the Chase.

Camping World Truck Series: 'Rookie' Sauter hits the jackpot

Johnny Sauter became the first Camping World Truck Series rookie to win a race this season with his victory at Las Vegas on Saturday.

Granted, he's a very experienced NASCAR rookie at age 31, having made 196 Nationwide Series starts and 76 Cup starts.

Ron Hornaday Jr., no rookie at age 51, is well on his way to becoming the first four-time champion in the series. He has a 197-point lead over Matt Crafton with five races to go.

But Kyle Busch might end the year as the driver who scores the most points per events raced. Busch is averaging 172 points per race with five victories in 11 starts. Hornaday is averaging 160 points per race.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.


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Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson

Johnson

  • Jimmie Johnson won the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway -- the 19th straight Chase race won by a Chase driver. This was Johnson's seventh career win from the pole. It was his 44th career victory in his 283rd start. Johnson tied Bill Elliott for 14th on NASCAR's all-time wins list.
  • Johnson scored his fourth victory in 2009. It's the sixth consecutive season that Johnson has won at least four races.
  • Johnson became the second driver to win both races at a track in 2009, joining Kyle Busch, who won both races at Bristol. It was Johnson's fifth Cup win in 16 races at Dover.
  • Hendrick Motorsports scored its 12th victory at Dover, the most by any owner in the 80 Cup races there. Johnson scored the 10th win for Hendrick Motorsports this season, the most by any owner.
  • Johnson led three times for a race-high 271 laps, including the final 225. He has led 650 laps in the past three races at Dover. He extended an 11-race streak of top-15 finishes at Dover.
  • Johnson scored his 15th Chase victory in 52 Chase races. It was the 21st Chase win by Hendrick.
  • Chevrolet has scored 14 wins in 2009, leading all manufacturers. Toyota has nine while Dodge has three and Ford has two.
  • Mark Martin (second) posted his third straight top-10 finish at Dover. He remained the points leader by 10 over Johnson. Martin scored his fifth straight top-5 finish.
  • Matt Kenseth (third) posted his best finish since his victory at California in February. He extended a four-race streak of top-5 finishes at Dover.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (fourth) posted his best finish in six races at Dover. It marked his first lead-lap finish at Dover.
  • Tony Stewart (ninth) ended a five-race streak of finishes outside the top 10.
  • Ryan Newman (10th) extended a streak of six straight top-15 finishes that began at Michigan.
  • Carl Edwards (11th) ended a six-race streak of top-10 finishes at Dover.
  • Greg Biffle (13th) ended a seven-race streak of top-10 finishes at Dover.
  • Jeff Burton (16th) has finished 16th or worse in the past 14 races, since Michigan in June.
  • Brian Vickers (18th) ended a 10-race streak of top-15 finishes that began at Daytona in July (all 12th or better).
  • Denny Hamlin (22nd) extended a five-race streak of bad finishes at Dover (38th, 43rd, 38th, 36th and 22nd). Hamlin ended a seven-race streak of top-10 finishes.
  • Scott Speed (25th) was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender.
  • Elliott Sadler (30th) and Tony Stewart (ninth) each have been running at the finish in the past 51 races, the longest current streak.
  • The top 10 consisted of six Chevrolets, three Dodges and one Ford.

Nationwide Series

Clint

Bowyer

  • Clint Bowyer won the Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway. It was his eighth career Nationwide victory in 153 races. It marked Bowyer's second victory in 2009. He also won at Daytona in July.
  • Bowyer led once for 83 laps.
  • Kyle Busch led twice for 109 laps; it was the 12th race in 2009 in which he had the most laps led. Busch has led 2,053 laps in 2009, becoming just the second driver to eclipse the 2,000-lap mark in a single season. Sam Ard holds the record, leading 2,127 laps in 29 races in 1984. Busch has led in 26 of the 28 races in 2009.
  • This was Richard Childress Racing's 55th victory in the Nationwide Series.
  • Busch has a 211-point lead over second-place Carl Edwards and is 297 ahead of third-place Keselowski.
  • Keselowski scored his 10th straight top-10 finish, extending a streak that began at Gateway. He has scored top-5 finishes in the past six races. Keselowski has been running at the finish in his past 60 series races, the longest current streak. His last DNF came for an accident at Las Vegas in March 2008, when he finished 23rd.
  • Jason Leffler (sixth) posted his 23rd top-15 finish in 28 races in 2009.
  • Michael Annett (13th) was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender. Annett started at the rear in a backup car.
  • The top 10 consisted of two Chevrolets, six Toyotas and two Fords.

Camping World Truck Series

Johnny

Sauter

  • Johnny Sauter won the Las Vegas 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It was his first series win in his 31st start. Sauter is the third first-time winner in 2009. He has three Nationwide Series wins.
  • Sauter is the first rookie of the year candidate to win since Scott Speed (Dover, 2008).
  • Thorsport Racing posted its third series victory.
  • Sauter led four times for 62 laps, including the final 17.
  • This is the eighth win for Chevrolet in 2009.
  • Sauter's win propelled him into the top five in series points. He has scored top-5 finishes in the past five races, all since Joe Shear Jr. began as crew chief.
  • Matt Crafton (second) scored his ninth top-5 finish of 2009. It was the first 1-2 finish for Thorsport Racing.
  • Ron Hornaday Jr. (sixth) scored his 16th top-10 finish of 2009.
  • Crafton gained 20 points on Hornaday, who now leads the points by 197.
  • Jason White (third) scored his best career finish.
  • Todd Bodine (fourth) scored only his second top-10 finish in the past nine races.
  • Timothy Peters (fifth) scored his sixth top-10 in the past seven races.

-- Racing Resources