On Sunday, Hendrick Motorsports celebrated the 25th anniversary of their first victory in the then-Winston Cup Series.
Back then, the team, then known as All-Star Racing, fielded the winning No. 5 for Geoff Bodine. Today, Jimmie Johnson capped off the anniversary celebration in the best way possible for Hendrick Motorsports.
Johnson, who had early issues on pit road, charged up through the field, and then used his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet in the manner of a battering ram in order to move Denny Hamlin out of the way on lap 430. After winning the race off pit road under a late caution, Hamlin passed on Johnson on the restart.
Johnson ran down Hamlin and re-passed him with 15 laps to go. From there, Johnson held on to win for the first time this season. This win marks the sixth victory at Martinsville for Johnson and the second in the spring race in the past three years.
After the race, Johnson met with reporters in the media center.
“Through the day, it seemed like late in the run our car was really good, and Chad [Knaus] and the guys made a bunch of adjustments to get us quicker at the start,” Johnson said.
Hamlin held on to finish second. Afterwards, all the talk was about what Hamlin thought about Johnson’s banzai move.
“You know, it’s not that hard [to believe] because I know I would do the same thing,” Hamlin said. “Unfortunately, the way he did it… it got us way up high to where I couldn’t get back to him.”
Tony Stewart, continuing the great form that he has shown so far this year in the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet, brought his ride home in the third position.
“I felt like Darian [Grubb] made good calls,” Stewart said during the press conference. “There were times during the race he was making changes that I questioned, but they were better and made the car work.”
This race will be best remembered for the pass that Johnson put on Hamlin on lap 430, but also for the sheer amount of tire failures caused by high brake temperatures. These failures were not the fault of Goodyear, but the teams themselves. Most of the teams that had tire problems (the Nos. 7, 8 and 71 were the worst offenders) had significant handling issues that might have required additional reliance on the brakes. This would have caused additional heat to build up, causing the beads to melt.
Points Standings (Top 12)
Early on Sunday, it seemed like Gordon was going to be able to break his 46-race winless streak at Martinsville. However, the No. 24 Chevrolet faded late in the race to another fourth-place finish. However, this was enough to expand his lead over new second-place man Bowyer to 89 points. Kurt Busch lost 56 points to Gordon on Sunday and is now 132 points behind in third. However, Johnson was not only the big winner on the track, but he was also the big winner in the points. Johnson’s victory vaulted him up five places up to a season-best fourth in the standings, just 10 points behind Kurt Busch.
Hamlin is fifth this week after leading the most laps on Sunday en route to a second-place finish. Kyle Busch is down two places to sixth this week after a rather tough race. First, he dove too hard into turn 3 early on and took himself and Scott Speed out. Then, a blown tire forced Busch to pit under green, which cost him two laps that were never recovered. Busch eventually brought the No. 18 home in 24th, two laps down. Despite running a very strong third on Sunday, Stewart could only maintain the seventh spot in points, while Carl Edwards is down to eighth after issues put a damper on a fairly good run. Late in the going, Edwards cut a left-rear tire through incidental contact with the No. 00 of David Reutimann. This forced Edwards to stop under green for left-side tires.
Kasey Kahne is down three spots after a relatively tough day. After starting sixth, the No. 9 fell like a rock in the first 20 laps before stabilizing around 19th. Kahne essentially stayed there for the rest of the race and eventually finished there. Kevin Harvick is up two spots to 10th after a rather quiet 11th-place finish, followed by Reutimann, who finished 20th, but probably could have had a top 10 if he did crash late in the race. Matt Kenseth rounds out the top 12 after a terrible day filled with handling issues.
Around the Top 35 Cutoff
The only major change towards the back of the Top 35 is the re-introduction of Paul Menard’s No. 98 into the ranks of those who are locked in, at the expense of the No. 71 of David Gilliland. However, it is a very tenuous hold onto the 35th position in owner points. Menard ran a relatively steady race and kept his Menards Ford out of trouble to post a 25th-place finish. This gives him only a three-point advantage over the No. 71 for TRG Motorsports.
As for the No. 71, Gilliland had tire bead problems during the race. On two occasions, brake heat caused the bead on the right-front tire to melt. This resulted in flat tires that necessitated two green-flag pit stops to change tires, which cost the team multiple laps. These issues and overall bad track position dropped the No. 71 to a 36th-place finish, eight laps down.
As for the rest of the race teams in and around the cutoff, there was very little change. Aric Almirola had the same problems as Gilliland and fell only six points further out of 35th. Speed was wrecked by Kyle Busch out of ninth early on (he had earned the positioning through pit strategy) and finished 76 laps down in 39th. Robby Gordon and Joey Logano had similar issues to Almirola, while Sam Hornish Jr. and John Andretti were not all that competitive.