NASCAR Barometer: Johnson Scores Ninth Martinsville Win

NASCAR Barometer: Johnson Scores Ninth Martinsville Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Has Jimmie Johnson figured out how to dominate the current Chase for the Sprint Cup championship? He won for the ninth time at Martinsville Speedway to advance to the finale at Homestead Miami Speedway, and coming out on top in that race would give him his seventh championship in the series. Sunday's win was a masterful performance from the team. Their fortunes were down early in Sunday's race when fuel pressure problems dropped them from the top of the order. A persistent fight back to the front of the field enabled him to remain out front in the closing miles, however.

So, Johnson will be one of the four drivers to compete for the 2016 Sprint Cup in Miami in three weeks. The remaining three have yet to be decided, but this week's race in Texas could finalize half of that four-man field. Johnson will be able to rest comfortably, but the other seven drivers still alive in the Chase have a lot to do at the final 1.5-mile quad-oval track on the 2016 season calendar.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson – Mistakes continue to haunt the No. 48 team this season, but the team overcame adversity to score an all-important win in Martinsville on Sunday. In Johnson's first appearance in the final eight under the current Chase format, he lost fire in his machine after running in the top 10. All was not lost for the former champions, however. He came back to win the race and now advances to fight

Has Jimmie Johnson figured out how to dominate the current Chase for the Sprint Cup championship? He won for the ninth time at Martinsville Speedway to advance to the finale at Homestead Miami Speedway, and coming out on top in that race would give him his seventh championship in the series. Sunday's win was a masterful performance from the team. Their fortunes were down early in Sunday's race when fuel pressure problems dropped them from the top of the order. A persistent fight back to the front of the field enabled him to remain out front in the closing miles, however.

So, Johnson will be one of the four drivers to compete for the 2016 Sprint Cup in Miami in three weeks. The remaining three have yet to be decided, but this week's race in Texas could finalize half of that four-man field. Johnson will be able to rest comfortably, but the other seven drivers still alive in the Chase have a lot to do at the final 1.5-mile quad-oval track on the 2016 season calendar.

UPGRADE

Jimmie Johnson – Mistakes continue to haunt the No. 48 team this season, but the team overcame adversity to score an all-important win in Martinsville on Sunday. In Johnson's first appearance in the final eight under the current Chase format, he lost fire in his machine after running in the top 10. All was not lost for the former champions, however. He came back to win the race and now advances to fight for his seventh title in Miami. Additionally, Johnson has six wins at Texas, including this week's race last season. In fact, Johnson has won five of the last eight Texas races. This visit to Victory Lane allows him to focus on adding another title to his trophy case in three weeks.

Denny Hamlin – An early speeding penalty (his 10th of the season) dropped Hamlin from the front of the field before even 50 laps were complete on Sunday. The benefit of suffering the penalty early in the race meant Hamlin had plenty of time to recover, though. By the time all 500 laps were complete in Martinsville, he had worked his way back inside the top five. The third-place finish on Sunday was Hamlin's 12th of the season. The team continues to perform well, which could give them a shot at the big prize at Homestead. At Texas, Hamlin has two victories from 21 career starts. He finished 12th after starting sixth there earlier this season, and continued top finishes may be enough to see him through to race for a championship.

Brad Keselowski – Though he has already been eliminated from Chase contention, Keselowski had a great race in Martinsville. The Penske Racing driver was virtually nowhere to be found throughout practice and qualifying, but under race conditions, the team proved once again that they can be a team to beat nearly each week. Keselowski's second-place finish was his 16th of the season and his second top-five finish in the last five races. While he may not be eligible to win the championship this season, there still are three race victories for which to compete. With six top-10 Texas finishes in the last eight races at the track, Keselowski should be a driver who fantasy players seriously consider choosing for their lineups this week.

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth was a driver who maximized his returns in Martinsville last week. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver wasn't able to match the pace of his teammates in practice through the weekend, but worked on his car throughout the race to score a top finish at the end of the day. Sunday's top finish could be a boost, as he looks to qualify to race for the championship in Miami. The fourth-place finish was just his eighth top-five finish of the season, but he remains poised to claim one of the three remaining spots to win the championship in three weeks. Kenseth has two wins at Texas, but hasn't scored a top-10 there since the spring of 2014. He led 20 laps at the circuit earlier this season when he finished 11th, though.

Jeff Gordon – An honorable mention in the upgrade column has to go Jeff Gordon. The veteran driver raced to his second top-10 finish in eight substitute appearances for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this season. Last week's race at Martinsville may turn out to be his last, but his top finish proves that he can still get the job done despite not being in the seat each week. Gordon is an icon in the sport and will certainly be one of the names generations will remember as they look back on the history of sport. His starts this season may have come to an end, but by finishing in the top 10 at one of his best track he showed that he rightly deserves his spot as a legend in the sport.

DOWNGRADE

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Not only did Stenhouse have to move to a backup car for Sunday's race after crashing in qualifying, but he also lost control early in Sunday's race to bring out the first caution period. The incident ended his afternoon, and the 40th-place finish that resulted was his second last-place finish of the season. His best Texas finish in seven career starts is mediocre at 15th. Those numbers won't give fantasy players much confidence for the coming races. Roush Fenway Racing still has ground to cover as they work to return to fight at the front of the field, and it continues to look more and more that they will have to wait until next season for that to happen.

Carl Edwards – An early speeding penalty was just the first issue that Edwards was forced to overcome on Sunday. A blown front tire and contact with the outside wall was the second. It wasn't a good day for the Chase contender, but Edwards hasn't had the edge of his teammates throughout the 2016 season. He finished the day in 36th position, which may be detrimental to his championship hopes. Next week could offer some salvation to the veteran, however. He remains positive, and with Texas on the schedule, why not? Edwards has three Texas victories, and led 124 laps from pole there earlier this season. Texas is one of his best tracks, but next week's race is even more important to his championship hopes due to the trouble at Martinsville.

Kyle Larson – Sunday's blown tire came as a severe disappointment for Larson, who was one of the fastest cars throughout practice and all weekend at Martinsville. The young driver had been poised for one of his best races of the season, but it all came undone with an inopportune failure in the middle of Sunday's race. His 14th-place finish wasn't the worst result he could have expected, but when his expectation is winning anything less will come as a disappointment. Larson finished both Texas races inside the top 10 last season, but came home 14th at the track earlier this year. He may be out of the championship hunt but can still threaten to add more victories to his trophy case before season's end.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney's potential on any given week seems to be fading as the season grinds to a close. The young driver remains one of the most promising young drivers in the series, but was virtually absent throughout the weekend at Martinsville. The Ford driver struggled to make an appearance inside the top 20 in any session and ultimately finished the race on Sunday in 19th position. This week's race doesn't imply that Blaney should expect a top result either. In three Sprint Cup starts at Texas his best finish is 29th. He has two DNFs in that span and needs more if he expects to continue improving upon his rookie-season promise. Unfortunately this week may be another week fantasy owners overlook the No. 21.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

A.J. Allmendinger – Throughout practice, qualifying and the race at Martinsville, Allmendinger was one of the top drivers throughout every session. He showed enough pace to compete for the win on Sunday given those practice times, and raced to his eighth top-10 finish of the season. It was yet another top performance from the JTG Daugherty Racing team at Martinsville. The team is rapidly becoming one to beat at the small Virginia oval, and are adding that circuit to the road courses as places they can win. Like Martinsville and the road courses, there remain a few circuits where Allmendinger can threaten for the win, and Martinsville is definitely one of those tracks. However, Texas isn't one of those venues. In 15 career starts at the oval he has just two top-10 finishes.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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