Jimmie Johnson's path to Victory Lane at Martinsville Speedway was littered with yellow flags. Johnson led a race-high 245 laps, grabbing the lead for the final time with 55 to go. Those last 55 laps, however, seemed to last longer than the ...
Jimmie Johnson's path to Victory Lane at Martinsville Speedway was littered with yellow flags.
Johnson led a race-high 245 laps, grabbing the lead for the final time with 55 to go. Those last 55 laps, however, seemed to last longer than the first 445. Johnson had to wade through cautions and hold off the eager car of Denny Hamlin to earn his fifth win of the season and 22nd of his career.
"Short track racing at its best," said Johnson. "You have to give Denny (Hamlin) a lot of credit for racing as hard as he did. I knew that being in the lead it was going to give him a shot to give me a shot. He took his chance and couldn't get by and raced me clean the rest of the way."
It is Johnson's second Martinsville win, but the first time he and the No. 48 team are able to celebrate. Two years ago when Johnson won, Rick Hendrick's son, Ricky, and several other Hendrick employees were killed in a race day plane crash that put a damper on Johnson's fist Martinsville victory.
"We didn't have a chance to celebrate then because of the loss of our close friends and we are just so glad to be able to celebrate here today."
Despite an impressive late race charge Hamlin had to settle for second.
"That was the last shot," said Hamlin of his late race charge. "He had a better car than we did and that was our last chance to get him. I would have loved to get that grandfather clock but it is going to have to be another day."
Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon complete the top five.
"When that sun came out my car just got real loose," explained Gordon who led much of the events first half. "But his (Johnson's) got strong and once he got out front there was no way anyone was going to catch him."
Gordon overtook pole sitter Kurt Busch to lead the first lap and began lapping cars by lap 33. He continued his charge until lap 146 when teammate Johnson took the lead for just for one lap to collect five bonus points. Johnson gave Gordon back the lead a lap later.
The No. 24 Chevrolet lost the lead under a round of pit stops on lap 158 when Johnson beat Gordon off of pit road. Johnson remained out front until lap 244 when the No. 48 pitted and Gordon stayed on the race track; inheriting the lead on the restart at lap 249.
Hamlin put the heat on Gordon challenging him for the lead for several laps before finally getting the spot on lap 257. Hamlin led until lap 282 when he pitted under caution allowing Johnson, who elected to stay out, to grab the top spot on the restart at lap 287.
The yellow came out on lap 333 bringing Johnson to pit road; he restarted second behind new leader Kurt Busch, who won the race out of the pits. Busch was passed on lap 354 by Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Hamlin; slipping the No. 2 Dodge to fourth.
Just as the 48, 8 and 11 cleared Busch, the caution fell slowing the field.
Johnson continued to lead on the restart on lap 362. Busch who restarted fourth became the 12th caution on lap 364. Some of the leaders pitted but Johnson did not leading the grid on the restart at lap 372.
The Lowe's Chevy pitted under a caution on lap 401 giving the lead to Labonte; Johnson restarted 10th.
With 55 laps to go, Johnson on four fresh tires once again grabbed the lead. Several late race cautions decelerated Johnson's dash for the win. The final proving fatal for the 48 team; with nine to go, a caution slowed Johnson with Hamlin restarting second.
Hamlin came over the radio and stated simply to his team, "He's mine."
That comment fell short of being prophetic as Johnson and Hamlin raced door- to-door for the win with Johnson coming out victorious.
Notably, Ward Burton's return to the Cup series was somewhat of a whimper. He was running three laps down in the 30's when he smacked the wall on lap 223. He wound up catching a lucky dog on lap 364 to finish 26th.
It was an equally mediocre day for Ward's baby brother.
Jeff Burton led the standings entering Martinsville but an engine failure on lap 220 ended his reign at the top of the charts. Matt Kenseth is the new leader, Harvick (-36), Johnson (-41), Hamlin (-47), Burton (-48), Earnhardt (-94), Martin (-96), Kahne (-99), Gordon (-141) and Busch (-171).
There were 18 cautions for 107 laps and 16 lead changes among five drivers.