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October 22, 2013

Ken de la Bastide: Martinsville could decide NASCAR title

Now that the Talladega race has ended without the big wreck that would shake up the Chase for the Sprint Cup title, competitors head to the half-mile Martinsville bull ring.

Next to the Talladega race, the “big paper clip” that is Martinsville is the second most likely track to make or break the remaining championship contenders.

Realistically the championship is going to be decided between five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and former champion Matt Kenseth, who are separated by only four points with four races remaining.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are both 26 points behind Johnson, and Jeff Gordon is 34 markers back. All have to hope that Johnson and Kenseth stumble somewhere in the final four races to have any chance of the title.

Johnson leads the list of active drivers with eight wins at Martinsville, including the last two events at the Virginia track, and has an average finishing position of 5.35.

Gordon has seven wins with an average finishing position of 6.98 so he has a chance of gaining ground in the Chase.

Kenseth’s average finish is 15.8, and his best career finish at the track came in 2002 with a second-place showing.

Busch finished second to Johnson a year ago, and his average finish is 16.06, while Harvick won in April 2011 and has an average finish of 16.58.

So if history plays to form, Johnson is either going to win or record a top-five finish, and Kenseth will lose ground in the Chase.

Should Gordon, Busch or Harvick struggle and Johnson win, it will probably be the end of their championship dreams in 2014.

Since the past two Chase races have been won by non-Chase drivers, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray, Martinsville could bring Denny Hamlin his first win of the season.

With the bumping and banging that always takes place at Martinsville, it will be interesting to see if someone attempts to intentionally knock Johnson or Kenseth out of contention for a top-five finish.

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