Martinsville Win Gives Johnson Lead

Jimmie Johnson

Johnson scored his seventh Martinsville win and the 59th of his Sprint Cup career. (Photo: Getty Images)


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Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway to take over the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship point lead.

Johnson held off Kyle Busch in the closing laps to score his seventh Martinsville win and the 59th of his Sprint Cup career.

“I think in order to be the champion, you have to win at the tracks where you are good and we did that today,” Johnson said after leading a race-high 193 laps. “This was a strong performance for the team.”

It was the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s fourth win of the season and he climbed to the top of the series standings by taking the checkered flag.

“When you’re in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter what sport it is, teams step up to show what they’re made of,” said Johnson. “We’ve seen a lot of teams do it this Chase. Out team came out on top today, and a few more racing doing that, we should be in good shape.”

Busch, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five.

“This just goes to prove that we can do this,” said Almirola of his best finish among Ford drivers. “Five weeks ago they switched crew chiefs and gave me Todd Parrott and from that point forward I’ve been having the most fun I’ve ever had at a race track. We’ve been running so good. Today we made chicken salad out of you know what, and that’s the kind of stuff that Todd Parrott can do and all these guys on his team.

Brad Keselowski, who came into the weekend leading Johnson by seven points in the Chase standings, finished sixth. The Penske Racing driver and crew chief Paul Wolfe gambled on the day’s final caution flag by staying out on track to inherit the lead while Johnson and other frontrunners pitted for fresh tires.

The strategy didn’t play out as Keselowski was not able to hold off those with fresh rubber and he faded to sixth, which was still his best career Martinsville finish.

“This team has a tremendous amount of heart,” Keselowski said. “I know this championship is going to come down to Homestead. We’ve just got to be in position so we have a shot at it and we’re doing the things it is going to take to be in contention at Homestead.”

Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers, Bobby Labonte and Greg Biffle completed the first ten finishers.

Johnson leads Keselowski by two points with Bowyer 26 out and Kasey Kahne 29 behind.

Denny Hamlin’s day may have ended his championship aspirations. After being penalized twice by NASCAR for speeding on pit road, Hamlin was still able to drive his way back to the front of the field and contend for the win.

But electrical problems caused his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to stall on the front stretch on lap 391 and Hamlin finished 33rd.

“It ended in disappointment,” Hamlin said of his day. “We overcame the pit road penalties, things like that. We had a great car. When these things happen, you just got to suck it up and move on.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his return to the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports ride after sitting out two weeks while he recovered from a concussion. Although he was running near the front of the field most of the afternoon, he was involved in a chain reaction spin with Sam Hornish Jr. and Carl Edwards late in the race to finish 21st.

“It felt pretty good,” said Earnhardt of his return to the track. “I was just really pissed off about how we finished that race. That was really ridiculous. I mean you’ve got to use a little common sense that was not a good move.”

There were 22 lead changes among nine drivers. The caution flag flew 11 times for 64 laps.

The Sprint Cup Series now heads to Texas Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.

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