Martin seeks first Cup title

Published 12:06 am Sunday, October 11, 2009

History is in Mark Martin’s favor as he seeks his first Cup championship, but the points standings at this juncture of the season are as tight as they have ever been. Since the chase format began in 2004, the points leader after the 29th race of the year went on to win the championship in four of those five seasons.

The exception was in 2006 when Jeff Burton led after the 29th race, but Jimmie Johnson rallied to win the first of his three consecutive championships.

Martin leads Johnson this season by a scant 18 points going into the race at California Sunday afternoon, but none of the 12 drivers are completely out of contention at this point. In fact, only 165 points separate Martin in the lead and Carl Edwards in tenth position.

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But Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers, at 190 and 250 points behind Martin respectively, needs everything to go right for them and everything to go wrong for the others to have a chance.

Of the final seven races of the chase, there are two “wild card” tracks where almost anything can happen. The plate race at Talladega and the short track at Martinsville are places where a driver’s fate typically falls into the hands of others. The drivers that are within 75 points of the leader coming out of Talladega on November 1 will still have a shot to win the cup.

NASCAR CEO Brian France made a fairly significant announcement this week relative to the sport’s television coverage. Beginning next season, there will be standard starting times for day-time races, either 1pm Eastern time or 3 pm Eastern time, depending on the location of the race. Night races will begin at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time.

This move was smart on France’s part and based on fan, sponsor, and participant feedback. I would venture to say that there were at least a dozen different start times this season, all based on the television network preference. Kudos to NASCAR for listening to the fans and making decisions to suit the fans.

The “Danica Patrick wants to try NASCAR” story continued this week when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his JR Motorsports team made public talks with Patrick. That potential relationship makes a lot of sense with sponsor being the common link.

Patrick has already announced her intention of running the entire Indy schedule next season for Michael Andretti and any stock car competition would in between the open wheel races. That amounts to roughly eight Nationwide Series races.

I understand the clamoring over Patrick and where, and when, she may land in NASCAR, it all about sponsorship and money. This situation is a marketers dream, but dabbling in NASCAR on “off weekends” will yield disastrous results on the track.

Sunday we get to see another yawner at California. There has not been much excitement at that track and Sunday shouldn’t be any different. Like last week at Kansas when nine of the top ten finishers were chase drivers, those competing for the championship will dominate this race. Jimmie Johnson is my pick to win and jump Mark Martin into the top spot.

NASCAR columnist Jeff Findley is the publisher of the Post-Searchlight of Bainbridge, Ga.