Jimmie Johnson held off a hard-charging Ryan Newman in overtime to claim the win in Sunday's Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway, race six in the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup. The defending series champion led the final 50 laps, battling...
Jimmie Johnson held off a hard-charging Ryan Newman in overtime to claim the win in Sunday's Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway, race six in the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup.
The defending series champion led the final 50 laps, battling with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon in what looked to be a repeat finish seen here last April. However with six laps remaining in the scheduled race distance, third-placed Ryan Newman was able to get around Gordon to move into second.
A record-setting 20th caution of the day came out two laps later on lap 496, sending the race into a green-white-checkered finish for the second week in a row. On the restart, Johnson got a good jump, pulling away from Newman and leaving behind Gordon and Kyle Busch, who were battling for third.
With two to go, David Ragan spun and was stranded in the middle of turn 1, forcing officials to throw the yellow flag on the final lap. With the field frozen, the No. 48 Chevy cruised to the line, taking the checkered flag.
"It's just a great day of racing," Johnson said after the race. "In the end, it always works out that way here for a good short track race. The shootout at the end was really not my strong suit so I was happy to hang on to that. I'm better on the long run here. We had a great car. Certainly, getting the win here today is something I'm proud of."
It was Johnson's third win in a row at the .526 mile "paperclip" oval and Hendrick Motorsports' eighth victory in the last 10 races at the Virginiatrack. Johnson led a total of 147 laps but it was Gordon who led the most - with 168 laps to his credit.
"There's no one we want to beat more than the 24 car," said Johnson. "They make us step up week after week. Being a competitor, I don't want to lose. I want to win the championship. I race people with respect and have respect for what everybody does out there. And when it gets to my teammates and Jeff Gordon, who's mentored me throughout all these years, there's even more respect. He has respect for me because I'm able to get to that line and race him hard and I also have that respect for him."
Johnson gained some ground on the championship, closing to 53 points from Gordon. He predicts a fight to the end, hoping to continue making gains on the Chase leader.
"It's tough and I know it's going to be that way to the end," Johnson stated. "If I can [gain] one or two spots at best [each race], then we'll have a shot at Homestead. But this deal is going to be tough. I'll have to bring my A game every week. I my position, I'm putting that pressure on Jeff. It should be good competition."
Newman in the No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge came home second after gambling on a two tire change during his last pitstop. He ran in third before getting by Gordon for second late in the race.
"The two tires [pit strategy] was definitely a great call," said Newman, "strategy wise to get us track position. Those [Hendrick Motorsports] guys are tough. At one point I think they were all in the top three. You look at that and you think, 'man, I just have to run fourth today at best.' It's nice to be able to bounce back and do a little hard racing, come in second and have a shot at the win on the last lap."
Gordon led the first 108 laps and looked to have the car of the race. However, the No. 24 Chevy was forced to make a second pitstop under yellow on lap 171 for a loose wheel, dropping the four time series champion to 33rd. He quickly rebounded, charging up the field to second and battling with Johnson for the win. But in the closing laps, Gordon lost the runner-up spot to Newman after the two made contact. He held on to finish third.
"I gave him a lot of room," Gordon said of racing with Newman. "I was going to get in behind him and try to maintain third or go back after him because the longer we ran, the better we were. All of a sudden, I felt him slam into me. It almost spun me out. I was pretty upset about that... We talked about it when the race was over. I went over to him. We were both calm. I explained to him why I was upset and he explained why he was upset. It's a dropped issue now."
Busch finished fourth while fellow Chaser Matt Kenseth was fifth. Denny Hamlin earned a sixth place result while Greg Biffle wound up seventh. Juan Pablo Montoya claimed his sixth top ten of the year in eighth while Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick came home in ninth and 10th respectively.
Jeff Burton recovered from a pit lane infraction to finish 11th while Carl Edwards battled alternator issues to end up a respectable 12th. Both Edwards and 13th place finisher Tony Stewart recovered from a late-race incident also involving Kyle Petty and Martin Truex Jr.
In addition to the lap 465 occurrence, Truex Jr. was also involved in a number of other incidents, dropping him to a 19th place result.
Non-Chaser Dale Earnhardt Jr. enjoyed a strong run early on but his No. 8 DEI Chevy once again fell victim to engine gremlins, finishing 23rd.
Kurt Busch also suffered another disappointing result, coming home 31st after slowing late in the race. He dropped three spots in the Chase standings to 10th, now 420 points out of the lead.
With his win, Johnson gained ground in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, now just 53 points from championship leader Gordon. Third-placed Bowyer trails Gordon by 115 markers heading into next weekend's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. With only four races left, the championship is likely to be decided amongst these three drivers.