The Hot Pass: Hamlin gets revenge on Johnson
Denny Hamlin promised he would exact revenge on Jimmie Johnson to win the Tums 500 after the No. 48 Chevrolet dumped the No. 11 Toyota in the spring.
But as solid as Hamlin's car was in the closing laps on Sunday, he didn't have to use the bumper to win his second Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.
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"We're racing for nothing," Hamlin said from Victory Lane. "He's racing for the championship."
Knowing that Johnson wouldn't risk wrecking him for the win, Hamlin allowed himself to let loose. He sailed away from the pack on long runs. At times, he extended his position to a three-second advantage as he led the parade for 206 laps.
And although Johnson had his deja vu moment with Hamlin through his windshield with about 40 to go, the three-time champ — who extended his point lead by 118 with a second-place finish — refrained.
"I had one chance," Johnson said. "He caught the curb and lost some drive off of (Turn) 2 and I got inside of him. I thought, 'Man, I've seen this movie before.' He came to block the position like I did in the spring.
"If I had the chance to pass him and get to his bumper and work him over, I would have. If I felt like I had a car to win the race, I would have been up there leaning on him some."
After Scott Speed demolished his machine with five laps remaining, the race was reset for a green/white-checkered finish. Hamlin elected to remain in the inside lane for the restart and left Johnson and the field behind.
"I knew he was going to be strong on the restarts," Hamlin said. "I know those guys are going to be aggressive to try to win," Hamlin said. "We had the best car at the end. The 48 didn't do anything that he shouldn't have and made sure he protected his points lead. He gave us a little respect as well."
Juan Pablo Montoya, Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top-five.
With Hamlin's experience at Martinsville in Late Models and his track record in Sprint Cup, the rest of the garage will continue to grow fearful of the No. 11 team. Early Chase accidents deepened Hamlin's deficit to 352 points. But after scoring his third win of the season — the second in his home state of Virginia — Hamlin is encouraged about what lies ahead.
So where did your favorite driver finish? Check out the final results.
"It feels great to get three wins this season — more than we've had in any other season," Hamlin said. "This is the best we've been. It's just a shame our Chase has gone so bad."
Battle of the champs
Juan Pablo Montoya electrified the crowd on Sunday as he took shots throughout the race at Chase for the Sprint Cup rivals Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
With every nip of the No. 24 car and every knock of the No. 48's bumper, Montoya earned the respect and adulation of the race fans searching for that one racer that would go fender to fender against the Hendrick Motorsports darlings.
Around Lap 100, the radios lit up between the Nos. 24 and 42 teams. Each driver questioned the sanity of the other — almost in unison.
"What the hell is wrong with him?" Montoya shouted before taking Gordon's position on the track.
"I don't know what's wrong with him, but I'm pissed," Gordon exclaimed.
During the fourth caution on Lap 130, Montoya graciously offered Gordon a concession.
"Tell the 24 if he gives me room, I'll give him room," Montoya said. "He doesn't have to keep running me like that."
But 11 laps later, Montoya found himself dueling with Johnson. Montoya generously used his chrome horn to make the No. 48 aware that he had arrived. Montoya's attack earned the day's greatest response from the crowd.
Although Hamlin won and Ryan Newman and Mark Martin, who finished seventh and eighth, respectively, played roles throughout the race, by far the best bouts occurred among the champions that are still in contention for the Cup title.
"He's an aggressive driver," said Gordon, who led 36 laps on Sunday. "We've seen it from him before. I thought I did something to make him mad because I didn't understand why he was just driving into me for no reason.
"But, hey, that is Martinsville. That's kind of the way he drives. I just tried not to make him mad anymore and race him as clean as I could."
By now, with Johnson winning the last three titles, Gordon should realize his four championships will not afford him a pass from the field actually racing the No. 48. And if his car isn't dialed in, then Johnson, Montoya and anyone else will take advantage of the situation. But after the race was over, Gordon seemed surprised by Montoya's actions.
"My car wasn't as good on the restarts, and he got by me," Gordon said. "We raced clean at the end, and that's all that really matters. I hope it's not something that transfers over, because I don't really know what I did if I did do something."
Montoya said Gordon has a short memory. While Montoya is known for his assertiveness, he acknowledged it's challenging racing the four-time champ. Montoya, who won the 1999 CART title his rookie season and competed against the most gifted racers in the world in Formula One, hoped to have earned Gordon's respect on the track by now.
"Every time we've been around racing him, he runs the hell out of me," Montoya said. "He moved me out of the way before and was starting to do the same here today. I was running the outside of him, and every time he was just getting wider.
"We're good. I talked to him afterwards. And it got to a point, like, 'Hey, I'm here, and you're not going to push me around.' You know what I mean? If you give me room, I'll give you room. He wasn't giving me any, so I played the same game."
And on Sunday, Montoya won the end game by finishing two positions ahead of Gordon and moving back into the top five in the standings.
What's the point?
Only three drivers are within 195 points of leader Jimmie Johnson — the same number of maximum points a driver who wins a race and leads every lap can earn.
Mark Martin trails Johnson by 118 points, Jeff Gordon is 150 points behind and Tony Stewart would have to make up 192 points for a tie. Juan Pablo Montoya has a 200-point deficit to overcome.
Give a shout-out to both Jamie McMurray and Bobby Labonte — the top finishing Ford drivers at P6 and P13, respectively.
Certainly, both drivers have yet to announce plans for 2009, so one would expect them to be up on the wheel. But consider this: McMurray came from a lap down to finish sixth at Martinsville, which is his second-best showing at the track and his ninth top-10 in 14 starts. Pretty sporty.
Payback's a .... well, you know
AJ Allmendinger was running in the top 20 when Joey Logano flat-out dumped the No. 44 Dodge on Lap 251.
Logano's move was so blatant that it caught the ire of his crew chief Greg Zipadelli.
But it's Allmendinger that won't soon forget the thump that landed him a 34th-place finish.
"We just got taken out today," Allmendinger said. "The 20 car crashed us. Until then, we were working on the car and getting it better. Our lap times were good, and we were just trying to conserve our stuff and be there at the end."
Logano finished 12th on Sunday, best of the freshman class.
Juan Pablo Montoya's response to ABC/ESPN analyst Bob Griese's taco "quip":
"I could say I spent the last three hours eating tacos, but I was driving the race car."
Say what? II
Denny Hamlin after crossing the finish line:
"Find me a porta-john. I have to pee like you won't believe."