Danny Peters · Monday November 11, 2013
ONE: A Six Pack Is Looming
Barring a bizarre turn of events next Sunday afternoon, Jimmie Johnson will wrap up an incredible sixth Sprint Cup title with a finish of 23rd or better. The goal is near, following a solid third-place run at Phoenix International Raceway and a disastrous day for Matt Kenseth, who finished in a wayward 23rd place. Johnson, as you might expect, is not taking anything for granted.
“Even with a nice points lead, I’m not going to take any week any differently. There’s still a lot of pressure to get the job done,” he said Sunday. “And it’s no layup at all.”
Sure, yes, there is pressure to get the job done, but this is Jimmie Johnson, folks. He’s got one hand on the big silver wavy trophy and I just don’t see any way it slips through his vice-like grip at this stage. Credit to Kenseth, who has had a phenomenal season, but coming second to the man who has dominated the Chase format is nothing to be ashamed of — not by any stretch of the imagination.
As you might expect, veteran crew chief Chad Knaus is taking nothing for granted.
“Man, there’s no cushions right now,” he said. “Homestead is a pretty difficult racetrack. It’s going to be a battle next week.”
A predictable response, certainly, from Knaus, but it’s not fooling anyone. This title is absolutely Johnson’s to lose and I don’t see that happening.
TWO: Mark Martin And The “R” Word
When I first broke into NASCAR back in 2005, my first project, believe it or not, was a Mark Martin retirement ad. Some eight years later, and although he’s not prepared to actually use the “R” word, it seems that the moment has finally come for the man himself. Sunday’s race will be number 882 for Martin in 31 years of Cup level competition, and it will leave him one behind Dave Marcis (883 starts) for fifth on the all-time list.
“We’ve known this for a while, we just kept it to ourselves and to our friends and stuff,” said Martin. “If I get through Homestead without a scratch, it will be pretty cool. It will be one tremendous career that we did some really great things and I got out of it without paying a big price.”
Martin, who has been driving the No. 14 car in Tony Stewart’s absence, will remain associated with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, but it will be in a more advisory and testing type role – one that should suit a man with his wealth of experience and collaborative spirit.
The man himself says he is “100% comfortable and ready” to get out of the car and although I suspect, one way or another, we’ll see him race a few times next year, for now it does seem like this is it for the future Hall of Famer. He will, undoubtedly, be missed. They don’t make them like Mark Martin anymore.
THREE: 1,000 Up For Burton
Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway was very much a milestone race for Jeff Burton. All told, it was his 1000th race encompassing 690 starts at the Cup level, 306 at the Nationwide level and four attempts in the Truck Series. It’s an impressive effort for Burton and it speaks to his ability, longevity and approach to racing at the highest level and he is just the sixth man to achieve this mark.
“When I was 7 years old, I wanted to be a race car driver. I’m 46 and a race car driver. I’ve just really been blessed,” Burton said. “The cool thing is I’ve met so many people and experienced so many things that I never would have been able to do. To be able to compete for a living is a cool thing.”
With his tenure at Richard Childress Racing coming to an end after Miami, Burton plans to scale back to something more part-time, but as of the time of writing, no official announcements have been made.
“I will be involved in the sport,” Burton said. “There is a place for me. I want to be here. I feel like I can contribute, so I would be surprised if five years from now, I wasn’t still involved in the sport.”
I for one would be happy to see that. Burton’s one of the good guys.
FOUR: The Homestead Finale Looms
After ten months and 35 races, at last we’re at the finale with a trip down south to Miami-Homestead Speedway for the denouement of the 2013 season. This will be the 15th Sprint Cup race at the cookie-cutter circuit and the 12th time the season has come to a close at this track.
Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle both have three wins apiece and Matt Kenseth, who needs a miracle, also has a win at this track back in 2007. Denny Hamlin, who has a seven year win streak on the line, has also won a race here in 2009 and he, for one, would love a victory to close out what has been the most testing season ever for the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran. For Hamlin, and others, it’s an opportunity to finish out the year strong with a morale boosting victory ahead of the off-season and the holiday festivities.
Typically, 2011 aside, this has been a race with few cautions, so practice and qualifying will be as important as ever. Expect Johnson to be right up there all weekend as he looks to close out the year in style.
FIVE: Juan Pablo’s Last Hurrah Before Leaving NASCAR
And finally, since I’m on the topic of retirements and last races, this will be the last race for Juan Pablo Montoya on the Sprint Cup circuit ahead of his move to Team Penske’s IndyCar program in 2014. For Montoya, it will be race number 253.
His stat line at the Cup level is not perhaps what some might have expected when he first joined the sport some eight years ago: 2 wins, 24 top-5’s, 59 top-10’s and 9 pole positions, but it’s fair to say he has not had, at times, the best of equipment.
Both of his wins came on road courses (2007, Sonoma and 2010, Watkins Glen,) so you can be sure he’ll be doing everything he can to finish strong and to finally pick up that oval victory that has so far eluded him. He’s been close, sure, but he hasn’t quite been able to close him out. Although a win wouldn’t mask what has been a relatively unsuccessful spell in stock car racing, you can be sure he’ll be going all out to close out his career in this type of racing in style.
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