by Justin Tucker
There is absolutely no secret to the fact that Jimmie Johnson loves Martinsville Speedway. In 22 previous starts heading into Sunday’s STP Gas Booster 500, Johnson had already compiled an impressive record of seven wins, 15 top 5’s, and 19 top 10’s.
On Friday, Johnson proved once again he would be the man to beat after shattering the track qualifying record at 98.400 MPH. That momentum carried over on Saturday being in the top 5 in both practice sessions in the 10 lap race averages. Johnson would save the best for last on Sunday by dominating the paper clip once again to score his eighth victory at the legendary speedway.
After the race, Johnson was very happy to claim victory, but didn’t seem to think that the race was any different than normal.
“It was just a long-fought day. Martinsville stays the same over the years and you just have to dig-in and get into a rhythm and drive your own race and see how things unfold at the end and how things happen,” Johnson said. “Fortunately we didn’t have any craziness with two tires or four tires at the end. I feel like the fastest car won the race. It was a very standard Martinsville race; although I thought some guys might peel off and take tires. It was just a hard race. This race track is tough to get around. But we have a great notebook. I’ve got to thank (crew chief) Chad Knaus and all my guys and everybody back home at Hendrick Motorsports. Life is good. We’ve had two wins this year.”
Johnson who led a race high 330 of the 500 laps on Sunday would prove his strength early on by leading 89 out of the first 90 laps. To describe how dominant Johnson and his Lowe’s Chevrolet was all day long, he was never lower than foutth in the running order all race long and the 330 laps was the third most laps he has led in any race during his career.
Clint Bowyer would prove to be one of the few competitors for the 48 of Johnson. Bowyer, who started 15th before marching up into the top 5 early in the race, would find trouble on lap 180 when a chain reaction incident saw him spun out by Martin Truex, Jr. on the frontstretch. The incident would leave him with heavy damage on the right front of his No. 15 Toyota Camry. Relegated back to around 20th position, Bowyer would remain determined to make up ground slicing his way through the field finding his way back to the top 3 with a handful of laps to go. Bowyer had one more chance with about eight laps to go but could not find his around Johnson’s 48, forcing him to settle for a second-place finish.
Jeff Gordon scored a much needed third-place finish on Sunday. Gordon who was in the top-5 a majority of the afternoon found himself mid-pack after a round of pit stops midway through the race. Gordon, in typical fashion would begin to march through the field and find himself on the back bumper of Jimmie Johnson with about 45 to go when a late caution killed his momentum and he was never able to stay in contact with Johnson the rest of the way. After Sunday’s race, Gordon is 12th in NSCS points.
Kyle Busch continued his hot run of races on Sunday at Martinsville. Busch would prove to be solid all day long in his M&M’s Toyota Camry leading 58 laps and scoring his third consecutive top 5 in as many races.
Brad Keselowski finished in sixth, while Jamie McMurray came in seventh. Outside pole sitter Marcos Ambrose finished eighth, while Greg Biffle finished ninth. Mark Martin, subbing for Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota, rounded out the top-10.
There were several surprises during Sunday’s race at Martinsville. Jamie McMurray would continue a resurgence of sort in 2013 by posting a seventh-place finish at Martinsville. Matt Kenseth would lead 96 laps of Sunday’s race, which is more than he had led in his previous 26 Martinsville starts combined. A late shuffle in track position would relegate him to a 14th-place finish. However, the story of the day had to be Danica Patrick. Making her first career start at Martinsville, Patrick spun after rubbing against Ken Schrader 16 laps into the event. Patrick would persevere at one of the toughest tracks in all of NASCAR by coming from two laps down at one point in the race to record a very respectable 12th-place finish in her debut at Martinsville Speedway.
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Texas for its first night race of the season, the NRA 500 on Saturday night. Coverage starts at 7:00pm EDT on FOX.
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