Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon pace early-morning Sprint Cup practice at Martinsville

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Jimmie Johnson may have been eliminated from advancing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but he didn’t drive that way in Saturday’s second-to-last practice at Martinsville.

Despite chilly temperatures in the mid-40s in the early-morning session, Johnson led all drivers with a best lap of 98.023 mph, the only driver over the 98 mph mark in the 50-minute practice.

Teammate Jeff Gordon, the only Hendrick Motorsports driver still in the Chase as it moves to start of the Eliminator Round, was second-fastest at 97.699 mph.

Martin Truex Jr. was third-fastest (97.679), followed by pole-sitter Jamie McMurray (97.674), Kevin Harvick (97.664) and Talladega winner Brad Keselowski (97.638).

The rest of the top 10 fastest were spring Martinsville race winner Kurt Busch (97.593), Brian Vickers (97.523), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (97.513) and Clint Bowyer (97.453).

As for the other Chase drivers, Joey Logano (97.412), Ryan Newman (97.377) and Denn Hamlin (97.367) were 12th through 14th.

Matt Kenseth was 20th fastest (97.217) and Carl Edwards was the slowest Chaser (96.949).

Justin Allgaier’s rough weekend continued in the morning practice. He ran just five laps before his ride suffered what appeared to be motor failure.

The final practice is slated to run from Noon to 12:50 ET this afternoon, just before the start of the Camping World Truck Series race that begins around 1:30 pm ET.

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Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.