Jimmie Johnson slides despite claiming points lead
Jimmie Johnson suffered the unusual fate of falling down the Castrol EDGE Rankings order on a weekend in which he won and moved into the lead of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.
The 37-year-old prevailed in a gruelling 500-lap battle at Martinsville, holding off a charging Kyle Busch for the final laps.
Prior to that Johnson had made the right strategy call by choosing to pit when, 25 laps from the end, the penultimate caution waved.
His main title rival Brad Keselowski meanwhile opted to stay out, but on older rubber soon found himself the victim first of Johnson and then of a quarter of frontrunners.
His fall would prove decisive: coming home sixth, with Johnson first, Keselowski therefore surrendered the points lead to the five-time champion.
With just three rounds to go, Johnson now leads the Penske man by just two points.
Johnson also leads the way in the Sprint Cup Rankings, but despite gaining points found himself, unusually, falling down the order.
That was the result of even larger gains from newly-crowned FIA World Endurance champion Andre Lotterer, who vaulted up into eighth.
Johnson therefore fell to ninth, although even as he slipped he consolidated his position as best of the Sprint Cup runners.
Kasey Kahne is his nearest challenger, just one place down the road in 10th overall.
The Hendrick Chevrolet man followed Johnson and Busch home in third, and in the process humped up three places in the Rankings.
He remains more than 1,000 points behind Johnson however, roughly equivalent to two race wins.
Behind Kahne, Denny Hamlin (11) and Greg Biffle (16) both slipped back, falling into the clutches of Keselowski, who hung on to 19th.
Kyle Busch was meanwhile one of the weekend’s biggest gainers, with his runner-up finish sending him flying six spots to a six-week high of 28th.