Five things we learned on a championship-changing afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway:
On the third lap on Sunday, Johnson was minding his own business when
After more than an hour in the garage, Johnson returned to the track, puttered around for the rest of the afternoon, gained a few spots on cars that fizzled out and ended their days in the garage, and finished 38th. He ended up losing 101 points in the standings and now holds a 77-point lead over Martin, who finished fourth, with two races to go.
Make no mistake: This is still Johnson's championship to lose. The 77-point lead is the second highest any Chase champ has held with two races to go. And no Chase driver who's been atop the standings at this point of the season has ever lost the championship. Let's review:
In 2004, the first year of the Chase format,
Still, Martin isn't out of it. Why? Because...
Gordon is no doubt kicking himself today because of the opportunity he missed at Texas. "I'm just terrible at this place," Gordon said before he left the track. He finished 13th and trails Johnson by 112 points, meaning he's gunning for second place rather than the big prize.
But Martin still has a realistic shot at the title. Why? Because the schedule sets up better for him than it does for Johnson. Martin has been the top driver on flat tracks this season. The next race is at Phoenix, a flat track where Martin led the most laps and won at in the spring. Yes, Johnson won the previous three races at Phoenix, but Martin should have the edge on Sunday based on the notes from the spring that his crew chief
Martin also should have the edge, at least on paper, over Johnson at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the site of the season-finale. Martin has long been considered the top racer on the circuit at intermediate length tracks. "He might be the best there's ever been [on intermediates]," owner
Does this mean that Martin will catch Johnson? It won't be easy, but for the first time in a few weeks, we actually have a battle for the championship, which is good for NASCAR because...
And what a story it would be if Martin, the most hard-luck driver in NASCAR history, who has finished runnerup in the final standings a record four times, could mount the greatest comeback in Cup history to topple the greatest driver of his generation. Not saying it's going to happen, but if it did, it would go down as one of the most momentous and unlikely accomplishments in the history of the sport.