Johnson closes on Martin in Chase

DOVER, Del. -- Greg Biffle provides hope for teams chasing Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson in the title race. Hope that even Biffle and his team can use.

DOVER, Del. -- Greg Biffle provides hope for teams chasing Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson in the title race. Hope that even Biffle and his team can use.

A year ago, Biffle won the first two races of the Chase and finished third the following race. His streak cooled, just as he was being looked upon as a title favorite. He fell out of title contention and finished third.

Teams are hoping Martin and Johnson duplicate Biffle's fall, otherwise this Chase could be as exciting as Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, discounting Joey Logano barrel-rolling 7 12 times. Johnson led the final 225 laps, robbing the end of much drama, on the way to his fourth Sprint Cup victory of the season.

Two races in and this Chase looks as if it could turn into an interoffice battle between Martin and Johnson, teammates at Hendrick Motorsports. Martin finished second Sunday. He leads Johnson by 10 points heading to Kansas, where Johnson won last year. Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished fourth Sunday, is third in the standings. Montoya trails Martin by 65 points.

Martin, once known for his pessimistic outlook, isn't worried about Johnson's performance so far in the Chase.


"Only been two races," said Martin, who won last weekend at New Hampshire. "All depends on what happens in the next four or five or six."

Biffle, though, was steamed after his 13th-place finish, which left him ninth in the points. He reiterated his displeasure that Johnson and Montoya were a part of a Goodyear tire test at Dover in August, saying that was an unfair advantage since teams can't test on Cup tracks unless it's for Goodyear.

"We had a decent car, but we're not going to beat guys that came here and tested," Biffle said.

Goodyear works with NASCAR in selecting teams to tire test.

Johnson admitted the test helped. The team got more data and Johnson ran more laps on a track he's won at five times, including both races this season.

"[Goodyear] asked us to test, we came and did our jobs," Johnson said. "If it's upsetting guys ... so be it. I'm glad they're worried about other things and not the race car."

There's much to be worried about with Martin and Johnson atop the standings. While the focus might be more on Johnson and his bid for a fourth consecutive title, that could be overlooking the true favorite.

"[Martin] is still better than us and is [Johnson]," Montoya said. "I think [Martin] is tougher than [Johnson] right now."


No one, though, was tougher than Logano although he was shaking more than 20 minutes after his incident. The cars got bottled up in the pack and he was hit from behind. That sent him sliding down the track before turn 3, but then his momentum rocketed him back up the track into traffic. He climbed the banking, hit the wall and was struck by Reed Sorenson's car, sending him into the series of barrel rolls. The accident damaged six cars, including Tony Stewart, who fell back as far as 37th, yet rallied to finish ninth.

Logano walked away uninjured.

"I'm not even sore," Logano said, although the 19-year-old will likely feel it today if he didn't Sunday night.

Johnson and the other drivers know that problems like Logano's, although not as dramatic, lurk in the season's final eight races.

"If you get off to a quick start, it makes your life a little easier," Johnson said. "But it doesn't change the fact that you could have a problem later on in the Chase."

For many teams, that problem could be Johnson or Martin with the way they're running.

-- Copyright (c) 2009, The Roanoke Times, Va./Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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