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Johnson dominates at Martinsville
Come get your clock!
Actually, Jimmie Johnson probably doesn't need a clock at Martinsville. Seems like he knows when it's go time every trip there.
Johnson continued his domination at Martinsville Speedway with his eighth career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory there on Sunday.
He led a personal-best 346 laps en route to his 62nd career Sprint Cup win, which provided the five-time champion with his second victory of the season and the points lead. The triumph also elevated Hendrick Motorsports to a record 20th win at Martinsville, surpassing Petty Enterprises.
"The first time I ever came to a Cup race was here with my dad," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "We've been very fortunate to have some great drivers, and this track has been awful good to us.
"I knew we were tied with Petty the last win, and he's dominated this place for so long. But really proud of these guys and proud of the organization because they all ran good today. (Dale Earnhardt) Junior had some trouble, but I was worried that we were going to end up like we did this race last year when that caution came out because I didn't know who was going to take tires and who was going to stay out. But (the race) played out, and it's been a great day for us."
While it was a banner day for Hendrick Motorsports — with Johnson winning, and Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne finishing third and fourth, respectively, the race was unusually drama-free for a Martinsville romp.
Second-place finisher Clint Bowyer was in the mix with Johnson and Gordon throughout the final 100 circuits — and he even applied the bumper to Gordon's No. 24 Chevy just before Earnhardt Jr. got the worse of a three-wide melee on Lap 466. Yet Johnson was so dialed-in that he never perceived Bowyer as a threat.
"I think experience plays into it, and I felt like if I could get two or three corners and maintain the lead on Clint that I could stretch it back out," Johnson said. "Again, looking back on just one other thing, the most concerned time I had was during the red (flag caution on Lap 487), wondering who was going to pit and not pit, and then when everybody stayed out, I didn't have to worry about any tires coming, I felt a lot better about things and then knew I just needed a couple of good corners to get away from Clint."
The only fireworks that ignited came from the No. 78 Chevy of Kurt Busch. On Lap 350, Busch, who had been running in the top 15 in the early stages of the race, retired to the garage with a fuel leak. He returned to action but never really got up to speed when his car slowed and became engulfed in flames on Lap 486, resulting in the 12th and final caution and a six-minute-plus red-flag delay.
"Something let go in the brakes," said Busch, who quickly extinguished the fire. "The brakes got real spongy and then the pedal went straight to the floor. I had to turn the car to the right otherwise I was going to hit harder than what we did. (I had a) fuel pump issue and then a brake issue, bummer day for the Furniture Row guys."
Tony Stewart, who two weeks earlier threatened Joey Logano, never exacted his revenge on Sunday. Stewart, who finished 17th, never factored into the race. Kevin Harvick, however, banged Logano's No. 22 bumper repeatedly midway through the race. The only acts of retaliation in the STP 500 involved Harvick dumping Brian Vickers after the checkered flag and Regan Smith spinning David Reutimann for rubbing him down the back straightaway.
Smith recovered and was running 19th on the last lap when his buddy Paul Menard knocked him out of the way on the last corner in the last lap. The teams tussled after the race and Smith went up into the Menard’s hauler. Smith says he and Menard now "understand how they will race each other from here on."
But the story was Johnson, who started from the pole, led all but 154 laps and left the track with the points lead and his eighth grandfather clock. Just business as usual.
"There's just a rhythm and feel here," Johnson said. "There's a feel to this track, and the history we have, 10, 11 years now of coming here and doing this, we just draw on and fall back on.
"For me to roll in here off of vacation and literally got home the day before and first lap out on the track put it up on the top of the board just tells me how good of a car I had. It was really up to me to not mess it up as the weekend went on.”
Brad Keselowski barely missed a pit-line violation on Lap 451. Keselowski entered the pits in eighth place but rolled the nose of his car outside of his pit-box line. Fortunately, the brew crew told the driver of the Miller Lite Ford to back up his car into the box and the squad completed its service. Had Keselowski not had the front right tire in his box, officials could have held him one lap as penalty for pitting outside his box.
"Sorry about that," said Keselowski, who lost three positions on the stop. "I didn’t think I was on the line. … A fraction of a hair."
Keselowski gained five positions over the final 42 laps to finish sixth and tie his career-best effort at the track, originally set last fall.
Following the race he radioed crew chief Paul Wolfe, "We just need a little bit more here and we could win races." Keselowski remains second in the points standings, trailing Johnson by six points.
Matt Kenseth said it was "the best we ever ran at Martinsville" until the closing laps of the race. The team gambled with a pit stop during the final caution and lined up 15th with eight circuits to decide the race. When Kenseth was informed he’d be lining up behind Danica Patrick, he replied, "She’s on the lead lap? Oh my gosh. All right ... this is not going to be pretty help me the best you can." Kenseth finished 14th — two positions behind Patrick.
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