Remaining Chase tracks favor Jimmie Johnson
Johnson never has lost a Cup championship when he had the points lead with three races to go.
Granted, it's a tiny lead at the moment, just two points over Keselowski after Johnson won at his best track Sunday. If you think Martinsville was the end of Johnson's big advantage (trackwise), though, think again.
Keselowski's statistical disadvantage is just starting. The three remaining races -- Texas, Phoenix and Homestead -- all favor Johnson in a big way.
Mark Garrow says Denny Hamlin's title hopes are over as Jimmie Johnson wins at Martinsville and edges into the points lead over Brad Keselowski.
It starts at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. Johnson's average finish at Texas is 9.7, including a victory in 2007.
Keselowski's average finish on the 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth is 25.7. He never has finished on the lead lap in eight TMS starts.
Let's move on the Phoenix, where there is a little good news for Keselowski. He finished fifth there in March. The bad news? Johnson was fourth on the 1-mile oval. Johnson's average finish at Phoenix is 5.3. Keselowski's is 22.2.
OK, what about the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead, Fla., to close out the season? It's Johnson's weakest track of the three with an average finish of 13.5.
Even so, Keselowski still fares worse at Homestead with an average finish of 20.2 in four starts. He hasn't posted a top-10 on the South Florida track.
And Johnson's stats probably aren't as good at Homestead as they could be. Most of his championship years, Johnson went to Homestead just needing to avoid trouble to win the title. Winning the race wasn't his top priority.
Obviously, one would expect a five-time champion in his 11th season with 59 career wins to have better statistics than a driver in his third full Cup season with nine career wins.
But Keselowski will have to beat the odds now, and the statistics, if he hopes to keep Johnson from winning a sixth title.
"I feel really confident going into Texas and Homestead," Keselowski said after his sixth-place finish at Martinsville. "I feel like those are two races that we can race the 48 car [Johnson] heads-up in speed and maybe even a little bit better than them.
"I'm not quite so sure about Phoenix, but you know the execution we have in this team right now is second to none. I'm feeling great."
And here is one thing that can help even the odds for Keselowski -- a fuel-mileage finish. The No. 2 Dodge team is one of the best at it despite falling short at Charlotte.
"Certainly, [fuel mileage] plays into the No. 2 car's hands," Johnson said Sunday. "With the final three tracks, two of them, if not all three of them, we can see that. We're working hard to play that game if need be. I think we're better at it than we were even at the start of the Chase.
"Anything can happen. We've done a very nice job over these seven races to put ourselves in the points lead. We're ready to race under any conditions."
Nationwide Series: Texas on deck
The Nationwide Series had its final off weekend of the season before closing out the year with races at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, as is the case for all NASCAR series.
Rookie Austin Dillon is a long shot for the championship now, 26 points behind Sadler.
Interesting side note: Sprint Cup regulars have 15 Nationwide wins this season, the same number as the non-Cup regulars.
If Nationwide regulars win two of the last three races, it will be the first time in 10 years the Nationwide drivers had more victories than the Cup guys racing in the feeder series.
Camping World Truck Series: Buescher makes his move
If James Buescher wins the Camping World Truck Series title, he can look back on the day his team made the best of a bad situation at Martinsville on Saturday.
If rookie Ty Dillon loses the Truck series title, he will remember the day it slipped away with a cut tire at Martinsville.
Denny Hamlin won it in his second Truck series start of the season, but the real story of Saturday's race was a 22-point swing at the top of the standings. Buescher moved from one point behind Dillon to 21 points ahead of him.
Midway through the race, it looked a lot different.
Buescher was a lap down in 28th with an ill-handling truck. But his team rallied and he worked his way up to sixth at the finish.
Dillon was sixth with 48 laps left when he cut a tire, leading to a 28th-place finish.
No matter how it ends up at Homestead, these are two talented young drivers with bigger and better things coming in the future.
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Racing Resources says
Sprint Cup Series
• Jimmie Johnson won the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday. It was his 59th career win in his 396th race and his seventh Martinsville win in his 22nd race there. The seven Martinsville wins tie Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace for third all time.
• It was Johnson's fifth Chase win at Martinsville. It was his fourth win of 2012 but only his first Chase win this season.
• Johnson has 21 Chase victories, most of all drivers. He is the only driver to win a race during every Chase.
• Johnson, who started on the pole, took over the points lead by two over Brad Keselowski.
• Johnson led eight times for 193 laps, including the final 15.
• Hendrick Motorsports posted its 207th career victory and 19th career win at Martinsville, tying Petty Enterprises for the most at the track. HMS has a series-leading eight wins in 2012.
• Chevrolet posted its 50th win at Martinsville, most of all manufacturers, and its 12th victory of 2012, also a series best. Chevrolet, which ended an 11-race winless streak, clinched its 36th manufacturers' championship.
• Kyle Busch (second) recorded his best Martinsville finish in his 16th race there. He spun on Lap 150 and restarted 30th on Lap 156.
• Kasey Kahne (third) got his third top-10 finish at Martinsville in his 18th start there and his first since finishing seventh in this race in 2006.
• Aric Almirola (fourth) tied his best overall finish (Homestead in November 2010).
• Clint Bowyer (fifth) tied his best finish at Martinsville, leading150 laps.
• Brad Keselowski (sixth) earned his best Martinsville finish in his sixth start. He has matched or bettered his best finish at a track 16 times in 2012.
• Brian Vickers (eight) has five top-10 finishes in eight starts this season.
• Bobby Labonte (ninth) posted his best finish of 2012.
• Denny Hamlin (33rd) had two speeding penalties, then had electrical problems while running third.
Camping World Truck Series
• Denny Hamlin won the Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday. It was his second Truck series win in his 15th start. His only other win was at Martinsville in October 2011 (two starts between).
• Hamlin started at the rear of the field after missing the drivers meeting.
• Hamlin is the 14th different winner of 2012, tying the series record for the most different winners in a season (1998, 2005).
• Hamlin led once for the final six laps.
• Kyle Busch Motorsports posted its 17th Truck series win. Its most recent win was in this race last year when Hamlin won.
• Toyota posted its seventh win of 2012 and eighth victory at Martinsville.
• Nelson Piquet Jr. (second) had his best Martinsville finish in his fourth start there. His previous best finish was sixth in March.
• Joey Coulter (third) posted his best Martinsville finish in his fourth start. His previous best finish was fifth in this race last year.
• Matt Crafton (fourth) tied his best Martinsville finish. He led 33 laps.
• Scott Riggs (fifth) recorded his first top-5 since 2001.
• James Buescher (sixth) has finished in the top 10 in nine of the past 10 races.
• Timothy Peters (seventh) has top-10 finishes in six of the past seven races at Martinsville.
• Max Gresham (11th) posted his best career finish.
• Ty Dillon (28th) logged the worst finish of his career.
-- Racing Resources