Whos up to the Sprint Cup challenge?

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:15 PM ET

And then there were three.

Jamie McMurray might have showed Saturday night that he's clearly the best NASCAR Sprint Cup driver not in the Chase for the Championship, but what his win in the Bank of America 500 really showed was that only three drivers are left to challenge for the 2010 title: Four-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.

One by one the other contenders for the Sprint Cup crown fell to the wayside under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Jeff Gordon -- the only other active four-time champion -- suffered a failed battery that resulted in a 23rd-place finish and only a remote chance to rally back into contention from 156 points back of Johnson.

Tony Stewart -- coming off a win at California -- fought an ill-handling No. 14 Chevrolet all night and his 21st-place finish wipes out his hopes of making up the 177 points that separates him from top spot.

Jeff Burton, who finished 20th and Carl Edwards who finished 12th, probably saw their hopes of a championship disappear as well.

Johnson, as he has done for the past four consecutive seasons, just refused to let a bad start at Charlotte keep him from finishing among the leaders and to maintain his hold on first place.

"The finish was great. But man, the first half of the race was a disaster for us," Johnson said in the post-race media session.

"I'm so relieved. I'm glad to be sitting in here in third spot and leading the points. It's amazing what goes through your mind when you're sliding sideways on the back straightaway (early in the race).

"I saw my hard work for the year and dreams of being a five-time champion go away, and fortunately I got the car turned away from the inside wall ... and that kind of scared me straight."

What it actually did was scare the rest of the grid as in a "here he goes again" scenario.

Johnson faces five more races and he's a near master at three of the five tracks left on the schedule. He has notched wins at Texas, Martinsville and Phoenix.

And with Talladega a wild card for everyone, it leaves only Homestead as a road block for Johnson's championship hopes.

And it says here that this deal is as done as a Tiger Williams dinner.

Finish lines

With just three grands prix -- Korea, Brazil and Abu Dhabi -- left on the 2010 Formula One calendar, it would seem the only battle left in the world championship is between Red Bull's Mark Webber and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. But along comes McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh, claiming that Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button -- 28 and 31 points back of Webber, respectively -- should not be written off. Sorry Martin, but as the old saw goes, your guys have only two chances to win it all: Slim and None -- and Slim has already left the circuit ... Was I the only one who missed the crash that NASCAR says ended Patrick Carpentier's race on Saturday night on lap 217? ... What else is there left for Danica Patrick to put her name to -- how about a comic book? Yes, Bluewater Productions, an independent book seller, says it has developed a Danica Patrick comic book that will hit shops and online retailers like Amazon in December. The 32-page comic will retail for $3.99. ... Starting next season NASCAR will start going green by using E15 -- a 15% corn-ethanol mix as fuel for all of its touring series -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Campers World.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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