Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway gave the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship picture a major shake, severely damaging the title hopes of a number of drivers, while pushing others back into contention. Here are some highlights -- and low lights -- from a busy day in the Commonwealth State...
Too Little, Too Late – Jimmie Johnson did almost everything he could at Martinsville, claiming a typically solid, runner-up finish behind Tony Stewart. Unfortunately for the Lowes Chevrolet team, they were able to trim only a few points off their massive championship deficit, leaving the Commonwealth a whopping 43 points behind Edwards with just three races left. Yes, he’s Jimmie Johnson. Yes, we’ve seen him do some remarkable things en route to a record five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships. But no, a sixth title will not happen in 2011. Stick a fork in Jimmie, he’s done.
One Yellow Too Few -- There were 18 caution flags in Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500, and if you ask Brad Keselowski, there should have been 19. After running a smart, incident-free race, Keselowski was seventh with just two laps remaining. That finish would have left him three points behind point leader Carl Edwards with three races remaining. But alas, it was not to be. Contact on the final restart sent Keselowski spinning in Turn Two, and when NASCAR inexplicably declined to throw the yellow flag, Keso hurriedly re-fired his Miller Lite Dodge and limped home to a disappointing 17th place finish.
“Dirty” Junior -– After riding passively in the back of the pack last week at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., did things his way Sunday. His Diet Mountain Dew-sponsored Chevrolet never led, but he was never far from the Top-10, either, thanks to a scrappy performance that included a handful of apologies for on-track aggression. His first-turn bump of Kurt Busch triggered the day’s first multi-car incident, and midway through the 500-lap grind, he radioed crew chief Steve Letarte, saying, “If we raced more short tracks, I might be considered a dirty driver. I’d have me a reputation.”
Calling Out Joey -– After coming out on the losing end of a fender-swapping session on lap 151, Joey Logano complained about Earnhardt’s tactics. “He just dumped me,” complained Logano, prompting veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli to call-out his driver. “I’m sick of this shit,” shouted Zipadelli. “Grow some balls and take care of it.”
"I certainly understand that if you're unfairly wrecked… there's a chance that retaliation is going to happen,” said Johnson of Vickers afterward. “(But) after a fourth (or) fifth time with the same car in the crash, you start thinking maybe you're the problem. Something is going on, you're having a bad day.”