MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — A slot in NASCAR’s record books is absolutely within reach for Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson earned one of four coveted spots in next month’s title-deciding season finale Sunday with his ninth career victory at Martinsville Speedway. The six-time NASCAR champion will race for his seventh championship, which would tie him for the record with Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I’ve been trying to ignore this conversation about seven, and now I can’t,” Johnson said.
The victory blocked Joe Gibbs Racing from placing all four of Toyota drivers in the final round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup title. There are only three spots still open in the Nov. 20 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and JGR’s hope of sweeping the final four ended Sunday.
Most likely to miss the final? Carl Edwards, who had a tire problem and finished 36th at Martinsville — lowest of the eight Chase drivers. Also in trouble: Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who finished 20th and 22nd.
Brad Keselowski, eliminated from the Chase last week, finished second and was irritated by a lengthy caution earlier in the race when NASCAR struggled to figure out the running order. Had those laps not been wasted under yellow, Keselowski absolutely believed he could have beat Johnson.
JGR finished third, fourth and fifth as Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch are inside the top-four as the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway.
Jeff Gordon finished sixth in his final scheduled race as the replacement driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr. It is presumably the final race of Gordon’s career. He retired last season, but was pressed into eight races when Earnhardt suffered a concussion.
Martin Truex Jr. finished seventh and was followed by Jamie McMurray and Joey Logano, winner last week at Talladega but now the first driver below the cutline in the Chase.