At Sunday’s race in Fontana, would-be championship contenders went down faster than Michael Spinks at the hands of Mike Tyson. Just about everybody south of Tony Stewart is either throwing in the towel, or down for the count.

Tony Stewart got bum-rushed at New Hampshire and fell to the canvas at Dover, before taking a mandatory eight count and gathering his wits at Kansas. The win at Fontana provided a good whiff of smelling salts, offering Smoke more than just a puncher’s chance at a Thrilla in Manila. (Hey, I’m on a roll.) He’s fighting with one eye swollen shut, but he’s still quite capable of serving up a Sunday punch. 

Jeff Gordon hasn’t suffered any staggering knock downs, he just keeps falling a little further behind on the scorecard. Like some of the other surviving challengers, the former champion needs to land some combinations, and take a round or two to be taken for more a former champ past his prime.

Few have had to work this fight harder than Kevin Harvick. Given his starting positions each week, it’s as if the Bakersfield Burner is fighting with one hand tied behind his back. With the exception of a cut at Dover, Harvick has finished his rounds well. If the champion takes one on the chin, it may take Johnson’s guard down long enough for a flurry of uppercuts, and a hard right cross.

In prior years he exposed a glass jaw, but in this bout, it seems as though Denny Hamlin is getting the hang of the rope-a-dope. Just when you think this challenger has absorbed more punishment than he can stand, he manages to duck danger, and finish on his feet. The key for Hamlin is his corner men, because you can’t go the distance bleeding like a third-rate palooka.

There are six more rounds to go, and the deeper they go, the more they favor the champ. Jimmie Johnson has a good chin, he’s a ring general with a good combination. He may have led with his jaw in some of the early rounds, but it looks like he may just be warming up to fire a lethal right hook.

Better than half the pugilists on the card have fallen like tomato cans, but the remainder have either once raised the champion’s belt themselves, or they are well-conditioned contenders with the eye of the tiger. True, the reigning champion may pack too much power to go down in this fight. But remember, there are still six rounds left and no less than four challengers left to fight them.