Jimmie Johnson the victim in 83 vs. 17 tiff
That the sun is sinking fast on Jimmie Johnson's run of championships is not a bad thing for NASCAR. Five straight are more than anybody is likely to equal any time soon, so on to another face at Homestead-Miami -- Carl Edwards, or, more likely considering momentum, Tony Stewart.
It's just that you hate to see Johnson go down the way he did Sunday, denied a blaze-of-glory win by a non-Chaser who deemed his momentary little grudge more important than the outcome of a race.
That Stewart is charging for the title by sheer winning is a good thing. The guy who wins the most races in the playoffs -- Stewart has won three of seven -- would be a substantive champion indeed.
But Stewart was handed that third win by the aforementioned non-Chaser. And, close as the standings are now -- Edwards is just eight points ahead of Stewart with three races left -- Sunday's outcome could affect the championship itself. Stewart earned four more points for winning than he would have for second place.
The consensus of my ESPN colleagues, on both TV and dot-com, was that Brian Vickers was involved in perhaps half the 18 cautions Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
He wasn't. I reviewed the entire video and counted. Vickers was involved in six. Bad a day as he had, the only one that bothers me was the last one, the one that changed the outcome of the race.
In the last eight laps, "I wish he could have just driven around the racetrack, and we could have won this thing," Johnson said afterward, in tones as subdued as you'll ever hear from him.
Johnson already had held off Stewart on a restart with 22 laps left, and was breezing along out front. No more cautions, and Johnson would win. Clearly.
But Vickers wanted payback on Matt Kenseth, after both their days were ruined, and caused the final caution. Typical of Vickers' day, he ended up spinning himself after rear-ending Kenseth.
That allowed Stewart alongside Johnson on the restart with three to go. Stewart needed but one lap to make the winning pass.
No, this didn't affect Johnson's faded chances of a six-peat much. A win would have left him 39 points behind Edwards rather than 43.
But at least Johnson could have added some color to his sunset.
Payback is what it is in NASCAR and is permissible, even deemed mandatory by drivers, and conventional wisdom is to get it done as soon as possible.
I understand all that, and so does Johnson.
"Certainly I understand that if you're unfairly wrecked, regardless of who that person is, there's a chance retaliation is going to happen," Johnson said afterward.
Vickers was retaliating for Kenseth's wrecking him while they were running for position, eighth place. Kenseth seemed to feel that Vickers had been holding him up for several corners.
But with eight laps left, Kenseth's and Vickers' days -- and Kenseth's championship chances -- were already ruined. By that point, it didn't matter to them, just to the law of the NASCAR jungle, and to Stewart and Johnson.
It's all tantamount to, say, the winless Indianapolis Colts being allowed onto the field for a playoff game as a third party and disrupting the outcome of the NFL championship for their own petty purposes.
I've complained about non-Chaser antics affecting contenders since the first race of the inaugural Chase. At New Hampshire in 2004, non-Chaser Robby Gordon went after non-Chaser Greg Biffle and wound up taking out Chaser Stewart and ruining Stewart's championship chances right out of the gate.
It's bad enough that in NASCAR's version of playoffs, championship contenders have to run with the also-rans from the regular season.
At least they could admonish the also-rans to suspend the law of the jungle at moments that can affect race, and even championship, outcomes.
Camping World Truck Series: Hamlin winning at Martinsville no surprise
So what did you expect on Saturday other than Hamlin's first career Truck series win and his fifth at the track?
You could say Hamlin took Dillon, 21, grandson of Richard Childress, to school. Or, more accurately, you could say that Pop-Pop's truck team isn't perfect and that flawed brake pads made the youngster a sitting duck.
"It was a gift," Hamlin said of the opening, to Speed TV reporters at the track.
On the final restart, with 14 to go, Dillon jumped out to a lead that lasted only to the first turn. There he encountered the "lock and slide" problem he'd dealt with all race. His truck skated up and into Hornaday, who was challenging on the right side.
That left Hamlin an open lane at the bottom of the track.
Hamlin knew the Kyle Busch Motorsports truck was the class of the field at the end, but the crew was "reminding me on the radio that those two guys are battling for the championship," the Cup veteran said in Victory Lane. "I said, 'If they'd kindly just move right over, they can battle right behind me.'"
That's what happened. Hornaday finished second and Dillon third.
Dillon's problem was "something with our brake pads," he said. "I couldn't get going on the first few corners. I'd just lock and slide."
Dillon actually increased his lead to 11 in the series standings over second-place James Buescher, who finished 10th on Saturday.
Hornaday moved to within 15 points of Dillon but is tied for third with Johnny Sauter.
Nationwide Series: Saturday shootout at Texas
The Nationwide Series was off this week. The next race is Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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