The first race in the Round of 8 is in the books. After Martinsville Sunday, we now know at least one of the final four drivers who will compete for the title at Homestead. There are also drivers who will need to dig out of deep hole if they hope to be one of those final three drivers at Homestead.
1. Jimmie Johnson (4044) +1. Johnson had eight wins at Martinsville entering Sunday. But none since 2013, and he had not even led a lap since the fall of 2014. Sunday he overcame a tire issue and an issue with a stalled engine to lead the final 92 laps and score his ninth Martinsville victory. For the first time since the elimination format, Johnson will be running for a seventh title at Homestead, and that should have the rest of the field worried.
2. Denny Hamlin (4039) +4. Hamlin had another pit road speeding issue Sunday (he’s had 10 on the season), yet was able to overcome that and rallied back to finish a strong third. If Hamlin overcomes his pit road issues, he could be a serious contender.
3. Matt Kenseth (4039) +1. Kenseth appeared to be the car to beat for much of the race leading a race high 176 of the 500 laps. However he faded in the second half of the race and seemed trapped behind his teammate Hamlin as eventual winner Johnson raced away. Kenseth could be a serious title contender, if he gets a bit of help from his teammates.
4. Kyle Busch (4037) +4. Busch led only three laps but seemed in contention all day. He seemed to be a little short of speed to win, and was trapped behind his teammates late. Busch will need just a bit extra if he hopes to win a second title.
5. Joey Logano (4037) -4. Logano has been much better than his performance Sunday, he led five laps and ran inside the top 10 much of the day, finishing 9th.
6. Kevin Harvick (4021) -3. Harvick was slow all weekend , and that included Sunday. Harvick started 20th, fell down two laps and finished 20th. He will need to win at Texas or Phoenix, and as he has proven in the past Harvick is his most competitive when backed into a corner and on the ropes. He could still be a threat.
7. Kurt Busch (4019) 0. Busch has been barely hanging on throughout the entire Chase; Sunday was no different. Busch never had the speed he needed and finished 22nd, three laps down.
8. Carl Edwards (4005) -3. Edwards has never been good at Martinsville. Sunday was no exception. His Toyota lost a tire and he ended up in the wall, requiring extensive repairs. He finished 36th and nothing short of a win in the next two races will salvage his title hopes for 2016.