NASCAR At Martinsville 2012 Preview: Jimmie Johnson primed to take control

Tyler Barrick

NASCAR heads to Martinsville Speedway, where five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson could be primed to take control of the Chase after a remarkable run in Kansas. Tony Stewart outdueled Johnson to win last year's Tums Fast Relief 500.

On the 136th lap of Sunday's event at the Kansas Speedway, Jimmie Johnson's championship hopes appeared done, deader than Julius Caesar. The Hendrick Motorsports chauffeur had backed his Chevrolet into the wall, badly crumpling the rear section of his No. 48 Impala. Crew chief Chad Knaus called Johnson to the garage, then decided to have the team attempt to repair the car on pit road.

Repair it they did, and Johnson raced to an unbelievable ninth-place finish. Instead of losing a huge chunk of points to Brad Keselowski, Johnson held serve by finishing one spot behind the point leader and leading 44 laps while Keselowski never got to the front. It was just the latest case of the Lowe's crew taking a heaping pile of chicken manure and turning it into one of the finest chicken salads known to man, something that has become the team's M.O. over the last six years.

Heading into Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 at the Martinsville Speedway, Johnson's rebound at Kansas has him poised to potentially take control of the championship fight.

Keselowski has yet to finish higher than ninth in his first five starts at Martinsville and has led two laps. Johnson, meanwhile, is a six-time Martinsville winner and lacks 12 laps led before he reaches the 1,800 mark. Translation: one driver is still figuring out the paperclip, while the other could just about drive it blindfolded.

There is no doubt that Keselowski will eventually be a Sprint Cup champion, perhaps multiple times; he is simply too good and possesses that killer instinct that is a must to stand atop the sport of stock car racing. His first title very well could come this season, but he will have to get through Martinsville without giving up too many points to Johnson. If he could somehow gain points on the No. 48 this weekend at one of the five-time champ's best tracks, it would almost certainly make him the overwhelming favorite to win the title with three races remaining. The Penske Racing driver has fired plenty of shots throughout the Chase, but it would be a cannon blast to extend his lead or even hold Johnson at seven points back.

History is stacked firmly on Johnson's side of this fence, however, and the trip to a venue he's dominated right on the heels of his team's comeback in Kansas has everything seemingly pointed in his favor.

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