Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was one of just a handful of cars to spend time up front during the STP Gas Booster 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Sunday. After leading 346 laps of the 500-lap race, Johnson drove into victory lane to celebrate his sixty-second-career win and his eighth at Martinsville to take sole possession of the honor of winningest active driver at the track.
"Fortunately, we didn't have any craziness with two tires and no tires there at the end, and the fastest car won the race," Johnson said, remembering back to the same race a year ago in which himself, the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon and the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota of Clint Bowyer restarted first through third on a late-race restart, with Bowyer having new tires and Johnson and Gordon on old tires. That time around, all three wrecked racing for the lead. This time, though, Johnson won, Bowyer took runner-up honors and Gordon finished third.
Gordon made a hard charge toward the front, taking advantage of a nearly 90-lap green-flag run to race his way up to second with 55 laps to go. But shorter green-flag runs to end the race with his Achilles heel.
"We just didn't need those cautions there at the end," Gordon said. "On the long run, I felt like we had the best car. We just needed more laps there at the end."
While Gordon was hindered by late-race cautions, Johnson was grateful to have the lead to be able to choose where he restarted following those cautions.
"Fortunately, we had control of the race late and was able to hold off a bunch of guys," Johnson said.
Although Gordon and Bowyer ran near the front for most of the late laps of the race, neither driver led. As a matter-of-fact, Johnson and the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota and Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 Toyota were the only three drivers to lead multiple laps and the trio combined to lead all but two laps of the event. The only other two drivers who led at all during the race were Marcos
Ambrose in the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford and Travis Kvapil in the No. 93 BK Racing Toyota, each leading a single lap.
The yellow flag waved 12 times during the race, with the farthest-reaching incident being a chain-reaction pile-up on a restart on lap 180. The field bunched up behind the slow-restarting No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Bowyer was one of the drivers caught up in the wreck, as were both of his Michael Waltrip Racing teammates, Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 56 Toyota and Brian Vickers in the No. 55.
"It's just disappointing. She was just torn up too bad," Bowyer said of settling for second with his damaged race car.
Other drivers involved included Ambrose, the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford of Joey Logano and the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., among others.
Other notable incidents included the ninth caution of the race that came out when the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman stopped on the race track with a flat tire. NASCAR penalized Newman three laps after deciding that he stopped to intentionally bring out the yellow flag.
The 12th and final caution of the race came out when the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet of Kurt Busch suffered a brake issue, caught fire and hit the wall with 15 laps to go, resulting in a brief red flag and then an eight-lap sprint to the finish with a top-three running order that mirrored last spring's race at Martinsville.
There was no wreck up front this time around, though, as all made it to the checkered flag for top-three finishes. Kasey Kahne finished fourth in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch was fifth.
Finishing sixth through 10th were the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford of Brad Keselowski, the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet of Jamie McMurray, Ambrose, the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Greg Biffle, and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, driven by Mark Martin, filling in for the injured Denny Hamlin.