Johnson Wins SUBWAY 500, Moves Up In Chase For NEXTEL Cup

MARTINSVILLE, VA (October 22, 2006) -- Jimmie Johnson won the battle and took a huge step forward in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup by winning the SUBWAY 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race at Martinsville Speedway Sunday.

With the .544-second win over Denny Hamlin, Johnson climbed from seventh to third in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup standings.

"I'm happy to finish where we should have," Johnson said after his 23rd career NASCAR NEXTEL Cup victory and his second Martinsville win in three years. "We've been running up front the last three or four races and haven't been able to close the deal and today we did."

It was a topsy-turvy day in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup standings, with nine of the 10 Chase drivers changing positions.

Jeff Burton, who led the Chase coming into the SUBWAY 500 on the demanding Martinsville half-mile oval, was drop kicked back to fifth after finishing 42nd. Burton was felled by engine trouble before the half-way point of the race.

Kevin Harvick finished ninth in the race but climbed a spot to second in the points while rookie Hamlin jumped two spots up to fourth with his finish.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was poised to make a huge jump in the points when he got caught up in a spin late in the race. Earnhardt turned around in fourth turn while trying to get past Kasey Kahne. If he had made the pass, he would have moved into second in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup. He wound up finishing 22nd and dropped one spot to sixth in the points.

"I made a mistake coming down in to turn three. I went into three and locked the brakes ... a mistake on my part," said Earnhardt.

Bobby Labonte had the feel-good run of the day, finishing third in a Richard Petty-owned Dodge. Last year's champion and Martinsville's spring winner Tony Stewart was fourth, followed by Jeff Gordon.

Hamlin took a shot at getting past Johnson with less than five laps remaining. He got Johnson out of shape, but Johnson recovered and pulled away for the win.

"I knew being the leader we'd get a shot at some point and once I got pushed to the outside, I really felt like I was in trouble," Johnson said of Hamlin's challenge. "But I was able to rally back from the outside and get going. Once I got back going I knew I had a better car and could get away from him."

Casey Mears had a strong sixth place finish, followed by Kahne, Jeff Green, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Petty. It was the first time since 1999 that Petty Enterprises had two cars finish in the top 10.

It was a caution-filled day, with 18 yellow flags flying for a total of 107 laps.

There were 16 lead changes among five drivers.

Kurt Busch started on the pole, but didn't lead the first lap after being passed by Gordon.

Martinsville Speedway will kick off its 60th season on April 1, 2007 with the Goody's 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup race. Tickets are on sale and may be purchased by calling 877.RACE-TIX or visiting racetickets.com.

-credit: Martinsville Speedway