Updated: October 22, 2012, 12:00 PM ET

Kansas, and the rest of the story

Newton By David Newton
ESPN.com
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A few predictions with four races remaining in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship:

• Matt Kenseth, who won Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway and has won two of the past three Chase races, will be favored to win next year's title when he moves to Joe Gibbs Racing.

The 2003 champion already has earned honors as the classiest driver of the year, handling the lame-duck situation at Roush Fenway Racing better than most would.

"It's just a pleasure to drive that stuff," Kenseth told reporters in Kansas of the RFR Ford after his 24th career win. "We still have some races left we want to win. It says a lot about these guys sitting here … how hard they work to give me the best stuff and give me a chance to win every week."

But the JGR stuff could be better.

• If Brad Keselowski, who has a seven-point lead over Jimmie Johnson, goes on to win the title, he can look back at the save he made to avoid getting caught up in the Kyle Busch-Ryan Newman incident on lap 181 at Kansas as huge.

The Penske Racing driver admitted as much when he radioed, "Man, if we win the championship, go ahead and save that video clip."

• If Johnson goes on to win his sixth title, he can look back at the way he rallied to finish ninth after a Lap 137 wreck and how crew chief Chad Knaus remained calm throughout the ordeal.

"And that's what truthfully we didn't like about our attitude and execution at the end of last year," Johnson said of having his string of five straight titles end a year ago with a career-worst sixth in points. "When things got a little trying for us, we didn't communicate and work as we needed to.

"That's all people; not just the guy calling the shots and what to fix on the car, but all of us. And today we executed like there really wasn't anything that happened and did our best to get the car back on the track and get our best finish. It's more mature racing here in 2012."

• Dale Earnhardt Jr. will return this week at Martinsville Speedway after two weeks off to deal with symptoms of multiple concussions.

Team owner Rick Hendrick sort of admitted it on Sunday when he said Earnhardt would return before having to backtrack and say NASCAR's most popular driver had to pass two tests -- in the car Monday at Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia and in Dr. Jerry Petty's office Tuesday -- before the comeback is official.

Hendrick is getting the same positive feedback I was given last week that indicates these tests are a mere formality based on the progress Earnhardt has shown.

Seriously, folks. We can say all say that Earnhardt did a heroic thing in telling Dr. Petty about the symptoms that sidelined him at Charlotte and Kansas. And it was commendable. But Jeff Gordon was right when he said Earnhardt never expected to be benched.

• Regan Smith will drive the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Sprint Cup car at least part-time next year and the No. 88 JR Motorsports car full-time in the Nationwide Series.

Smith proved with Sunday's solid seventh, subbing for Earnhardt in the No. 88 Sprint Cup car, that he is more than worthy.

And consider: Hendrick supplies cars for Phoenix Racing, which needs a driver, with Kurt Busch knocking Smith out of a job at Furniture Row Racing. Hendrick also supplies engines and chassis for JRM, where he has admitted Smith is a candidate to run for a Nationwide championship.

That means Cole Whitt, despite three top-10s in the past four Nationwide races at JRM , could be out of a job unless sponsorship is found to run two full-time Nationwide cars.

"It's been nice to be able to step in and have them treat me like their normal driver," Smith said. "I know Dale is excited to get back, so that is going to be good for him. Looking forward to whatever comes next for me."

Notice, Smith didn't say Earnhardt would be excited if the tests went well.

• Kurt Busch will prove his move from Phoenix Racing to Furniture Row was a lateral move, even though he insists it's not.

In two races for Furniture Row, Busch has finished 21st at Charlotte and 25th at Kansas, an average of 23rd. In the Phoenix Racing car, Busch finished 27th at Charlotte and 17th at Kansas, an average of 23.5.

• Tony Stewart will not win consecutive Cup titles. He's 47 points out now. You can all but officially eliminate the defending champion from contention.

• Danica Patrick must learn how to wreck another driver intentionally without taking herself out if she wants to succeed in NASCAR's premier series.

But at least she sort of acknowledged that after trying to wreck Landon Cassill on Sunday.

"At some point I have to stand up for myself so this doesn't happen with other people," she said. "I chose today. The bummer about it is that my car is out, and he's still out there going, so I've got to work on how to do that."

Patrick finished 32nd; Cassill 18th.

• Johnson will win this week at Martinsville and go on to win the title.

He has a series-best six wins and 5.8 average finish at Martinsville. Keselowski has no wins and an average finish of 13.4. This is where the tide will turn.

"I really hate missing an opportunity to get points on Brad on a 1.5-mile track," Johnson said of Sunday's race. "That's his strong suit and they're just good on them. Today we had a fast enough car that I think we could have gotten some points on him.

"So I'm disappointed in that, but at the same time, what we went through to finish and have it be even still is pretty good. So we'll take it and we'll go to Martinsville, and hopefully things will go well."

They will.

Terry Blount: High anxiety at Kansas | James: Danica Patrick sends message but pays price | Live! rewind | Recap | Results | Highlights | Kenseth interview | Craven analysis

Nationwide Series: Looks like Sadler vs. Stenhouse to the finish

We've seen this movie before.

For the second straight year it appears the championship will come down to a battle between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler.

Stenhouse, the defending champion, climbed within six point of Sadler with his sixth win of the season on Saturday at Kansas Speedway. It is almost a reverse from where they were this time last season when Stenhouse had a 15-point lead over Sadler with three races remaining.

Much was made of how Stenhouse fought back from two laps down to get the win thanks to Kyle Busch running out of gas on the final lap. But Sadler fought back, too, coming from as far back as 17th to finish fourth. He moved up from ninth over the final two laps after pitting for a splash of fuel.

The difference in this year's battle is Sadler is more of a threat to win with four victories compared to none in 2011. Bonus points will be critical as he and Stenhouse battle it out at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead down the stretch.

In case you're wondering how they did at those tracks last year, Stenhouse finished sixth, fifth and second. Sadler was ninth, 27th with a crash, and sixth.

… Busch, as mentioned, ran out of fuel with the lead on the final lap. The series' all-time leader with 51 victories is in danger of going winless for the first time since 2003 when he ran seven Nationwide races for Joe Nemechek.

And this after Busch and his brother, Kurt, joked about winning every race this season for new sponsor Monster Energy.

"What a frustrating defeat," Busch said in his team release. "Oh, well, you get defeated sometimes."

Brant James: Danica rolls to 10th | Recap | Results | Highlights

Camping World Truck Series: On to Martinsville

The series resumes Saturday at Martinsville Speedway with Ty Dillon holding a one-point lead over James Buescher. Timothy Peters is 26 points behind and Parker Kligerman is 34 out.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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