It was the same track, same story for Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team, who extended their top-10 streak at Martinsville to 13 races with a win this weekend. Not only did Johnson extend his top-10 streak at the paperclip half-mile, but he also extended his top 10 streak overall to eight races on the season. With Jeff Burton struggling this weekend, Johnson is now the lone driver on this week’s HOT list.
While Johnson is clearly the series’ hottest driver and appears to be headed toward a third consecutive championship, a handful of drivers make the WARM list this week. To see if your favorite makes the cut, or if they need nothing more than a solid run at Atlanta, check out the latest edition of Who’s Hot/Who’s Not in Sprint Cup, Chase Edition.
Johnson: Is there one driver more dominant at one track than Johnson at Martinsville? The series point leader has not finished outside of the top 10 at the paperclip in over six years, and dominated on his way to victory this weekend. En route to what could be a third consecutive championship, Johnson has yet to finish outside the top 10 in six Chase races, opening up a 149-point lead over Greg Biffle.
Biffle: Moving up to second in points this week, it appears it’s Biffle’s turn to try and reel in Johnson. Carl Edwards couldn’t do it, and neither could Burton — but the series does head to a track the Roush Fenway cars run well at in Atlanta this weekend. Biffle finished fourth there in the spring, and is seeking his fifth top-10 finish in seven races.
Burton: It was not a good weekend for Burton and the No. 31 team one week after jumping to second in points. A mediocre 17th-place run after pitting outside the box was Burton’s first non-top 10 of the postseason, dropping him 152 points behind Johnson with four races left. Still, Burton remains one of the most consistent drivers in the Chase, and has finished in the top 10 in his last three races at Atlanta.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer remains one of the series’ most consistent drivers, extending his top-12 streak to nine races. This week’s ninth-place finish is his third top 10 of the Chase, and keeps the No. 07 team in the top five in points. The odds are in Bowyer’s favor to rack up another top 12 this weekend, too; he has three consecutive sixth-place finishes at Atlanta.
Edwards: After two consecutive hiccups at Talladega and Kansas, Edwards got back on track this weekend with an impressive third-place run. It was an uncharacteristically good day for the No. 99 team at the short track, and moved him within 40 points of Biffle for second place. Those two poor finishes aside, Edwards’s worst finish of the Chase is third.
Kevin Harvick: Like Edwards, Harvick had hiccups at Talladega and Kansas – not quite as extreme with finishes of 20th and 13th, respectively – but got back on track with a solid seventh-place finish this weekend. The No. 29 team is knocking on the door of the top five with four top 10s in the Chase, and they ran in the top 10 at Atlanta in the spring, as well.
Jeff Gordon: Gordon may be seventh in points, but has quietly had one of the better Chases of anybody in the field. Minus engine problems at Talladega, Gordon has top 10s in each Chase race with the exception of a 14th place run at New Hampshire. Still winless on the season, Gordon had a good chance for a win at Martinsville and finished fourth, but has another shot this week at Atlanta, where he finished fourth in the spring.
Tony Stewart: Tire problems have been an issue all year with the CoT, and Stewart was one of the victims this weekend. With separate tire issues on the day, Smoke finished four laps down and in 26th place. The Stewart-Gibbs marriage has only four races until its official mutual divorce, and the team has just one top 10 in its last five races.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: It was a great run for Junior at Martinsville — he finished second to his teammate — but it’s not been a great Chase as he and the No. 88 team has struggled with inconsistency. In the last six races, Junior has two top fives, but his other four finishes are outside the top 10.
Denny Hamlin: Like Junior, Hamlin had a great run at Martinsville (fifth), but has struggled with consistency with just one other top 10 – ninth at New Hampshire.
Matt Kenseth: Three crashes have impacted Kenseth’s Chase for the worse, but in his other three races, the Wisconsin native has three top 10s. This week’s eighth-place run was the first race the No. 17 team has finished in three weeks.
Kyle Busch: Tire problems at Martinsville resulted in another poor finish for Busch. The No. 18 team finished fourth last week, but his second-best finish of the first six Chase races is a mediocre 15th-place run at Talladega.