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Johnson has third title in his sights

October 19, 2008|From the Associated Press

Martinsville (Va.) Speedway is the place where Jimmie Johnson started his four-race winning streak a year ago on his way to his second consecutive championship.

As rain fell Friday and wiped out qualifying, putting the points-leading Johnson on the pole for the second week in a row, the drivers closest to him in the Chase for the Sprint Cup couldn't help but wonder if a third straight title was almost a foregone conclusion.

"I don't know where Jimmie gets his horseshoes," Carl Edwards said, "but he's got amazing luck, and they do everything right, so we just have to hope for something strange to happen."

Edwards and everyone else know, though, that time is running out. After today's Tums Quikpak 500 on NASCAR's shortest, trickiest track, only four events remain on the schedule, and Johnson will be the defending race champion in three of them.

Tony Stewart, who has won two championships himself, said it's difficult not to look at what Johnson has accomplished over the last three seasons and marvel.

"It's hard to win it once," Stewart said of the championship, which he won in 2002 and 2005. "To win it two years in a row is extremely hard, and to just be in a position where you have the opportunity to try and win it three years in a row is unbelievable."

But Johnson hasn't opened a prohibitive lead by any stretch. At least not yet.

Jeff Burton is second in points, 69 behind, and Greg Biffle is third, 86 back. After that comes Edwards, whose six victories for the season are the second-most in the series but who has finished one spot behind Johnson twice in the first five Chase races.

"I think it's 35 points a race we have to make up or something, and that's assuming that Jimmie doesn't have any bad luck," said Edwards, who has finished 29th and 33rd in the last two weeks. "I feel like all we can do now is just go race as hard as we can."

He's not alone, although Stewart said he won't change his approach to racing at all, even while sitting seventh in points and needing to close a 228-point gap in five races.

Johnny Benson passed Ron Hornaday Jr. with 46 laps to go and won the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

The victory, Benson's fifth of the season, allowed him to go from 39 points behind Hornaday for the series lead to 65 points ahead when Hornaday ran out of gas with three laps to go.

Hornaday, who started on the pole, had led every lap until Benson got underneath him in Turns 3 and 4 on the 0.526-mile oval.

Hornaday wound up 29th, and Kevin Harvick, his truck owner, also ran out of gas before the finish and dropped from second to 17th.

The victory in the Kroger 200 was the first of Benson's career at Martinsville.

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