MARTINSVILLE, Va. — There was a time this summer when a seventh Sprint Cup title seemed out of reach for Jimmie Johnson. Hendrick Motorsports was struggling, and Johnson didn't contend often.
Then Hendrick flipped a switch, built better, faster cars, and Johnson delivered. Now, that slot in NASCAR's record books is absolutely within reach.
Johnson earned one of four spots in next month's title race finale with Sunday's win in the Goody's 500, his ninth at Martinsville Speedway. The six-time champion would tie Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with a seventh title.
"I've been trying to ignore this conversation about seven, and now I can't," Johnson said. "I'll probably lie to all of you guys and say I'm not going to think about it at all. But it's inevitable. Fortunately, I don't have to think about it for three weeks."
The victory blocked Joe Gibbs Racing from placing all four of its Toyota drivers in the final round of the Chase for the Championship, which is Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Most likely to miss out? Carl Edwards, who had a tire problem Sunday and finished 36th. Also in trouble: Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who were 20th and 22nd, respectively.
Brad Keselowski, eliminated from the Chase last week, finished second and was irritated by a long caution when NASCAR struggled to figure out the running order.
The caution took 29 laps and left some grumbling that the order still wasn't correct.
"I think the stakes are so high, I really wish we would have red flagged the race, gone, reviewed it and gotten it right," third-place Denny Hamlin said. "There's a 100 percent chance it was not right at the end."
JGR finished third, fourth and fifth as Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch are inside the top four in points. Jeff Gordon finished sixth in his final scheduled race as the replacement driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr., and likely the final race of Gordon's career.
Track officials said 22 pedestrians were struck by a motorist in a parking lot outside the speedway after the race. A track official said there were no life-threatening injuries, though seven were transported to Memorial Hospital in Martinsville and two were transported to Morehead Memorial Hospital in Eden. One person was taken into custody after the incident for questioning.
F1: Lewis Hamilton survived a nervous start to win the Mexican Grand Prix in Mexico City, closing the gap on Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the title race. Rosberg leads Hamilton, the three-time world champion, by 19 points with two races left.
NHRA: John Force defeated his daughter Courtney in the Funny Car final at the Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas for his 147th victory, extending his career record. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Shane Gray (Pro Stock) and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won their classes. Antron Brown clinched his third career Top Fuel points title.