Chase Race Heats Up

Jimmie Johnson's misfortune in Sunday's Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway has suddenly tightened up the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings with only two races left in the season.

Johnson's 38th-place finish after crashing early in an incident with Sam Hornish Jr. saw his lead cut from 184 points over Martin heading into the weekend to only 73 after the checkered flag flew in Texas.

With Jeff Gordon now 112 behind in third, this year's Chase is tighter than last year's championship run when Johnson led Carl Edwards by 106 points with two to go.

At this point in the season, here's how the Chase has stacked up since its debut in 2004:


2008-Johnson over Edwards by 106 points

2007 - Johnson over Jeff Gordon by 30 points

2006 - Johnson over Matt Kenseth by 17 points, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 78 behind, Denny Hamlin 80 back

2005 - Tony Stewart over Johnson by 38 points, Edwards 77 back

2004 - Kurt Busch over Earnhardt Jr. by 24 points, Gordon 74 back

While Johnson maintains his lead, the Texas tangle clearly shook-up the story in his quest for a fourth straight title.

"You know, it's still a respectable lead," Johnson said. "Seventy-three with two to go is still a good position to be in. I hate that we gave up all these points tonight. The guys did a great job getting this car back on track to pick up a couple more spots, and we'll go to Phoenix and race. We've got two great race tracks for us. We didn't want this by any means, but we're still in a great position, and we'll go to Phoenix and race."

Martin's fourth-place finish on Sunday helped him close the gap on his Hendrick Motorsports teammate but the veteran driver realizes that although he's closer than he was when last weekend began, there's still work to be done.

"I still have got my hands full for the top-six positions with all those guys," Martin said. "Two guys that knocked me out of championships are breathing down my neck, so the race is still on. I don't know why everybody tries to cap this thing out and doesn't just wait and watch. There are still two races to go, and still things that can happen."

If Gordon hadn't had things happen on Sunday, he might find himself even closer to the top. He slid to avoid an accident with Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya, then battled other issues that led to an overall disappointing 13th-place finish.

"I think more than anything - a missed opportunity," said Gordon, who won at Texas in April. "I'm just terrible at this place. I don't know what it is. I can qualify, and the guys gave a real good car on Friday, but I just don't have the feel for this place. I don't know what it is. It just challenged us all day today. We seemed to be the best at the beginning of the race, and we made some adjustments trying to make it better based on what I was telling them, and we just went backwards from there and lost some track position.

"So it was a frustrating day. Kind of a more typical Texas day for us rather than what we had in April. So it was a missed opportunity when the No. 48 had trouble, so I'm bummed about that."

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2009

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