The Toyota boys were snookered Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
Despite leading 374 of 500 laps in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500, Toyota found themselves in the rear view mirror of Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson, who passed Denny Hamlin for the lead with 92 laps to go, led the rest of the race as the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers fought for third. Johnson’s ninth Grandfather Clock becomes his fourth win of 2016 and 79th of his Sprint Cup Series career.
Additionally, the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports driver became the first to advance to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“To be here and have six championships and an opportunity at a seventh,” Johnson said. ” A seventh is so cool and means the world to me. I’ve had a very blessed career.”
Brad Keselowski, who made his way into the second position late, was unable to reel in Johnson, coming home with his third Martinsville top 5 in the last four races.
“Not to win, I think we had the speed capable to pull it off,” Keselowski said. “But still, a really strong day. Car was good, team executed really well. Just kind of missed out on the racing gods today.”
Behind the top 2 was the JGR train of Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, who fought for third spot despite leading 227 of 500 laps. Finishing fifth, Kyle Busch expressed frustration toward teammate Hamlin, saying that the No. 11 was holding him up and costing the team the win.
“There at the end, we got bottled up, not being able to make a move on each other,” Busch said. “So we just sat there and rode in line and let others go on and win the race and finish better than us.
“You had the slowest Gibbs car holding up the rest of the line and all we did was let somebody else from another organization pass us and go up there. That could’ve been the [Nos.] 20 or my myself if it wasn’t for the 11 holding us up.”
Hamlin, finishing third, was surprised to hear of Busch’s anger, saying none of them were going to catch the No. 48 anyway.
“I had no idea why anyone was mad at me to be honest,” Hamlin said. “If someone is mad at me, I honestly don’t know why. I probably held our line up for 30 or 40 laps but none of us were going to catch the No. 48. That’s real talk there.”
With a lack of cautions in the 500-lapper, only 10 cars remained on the lead lap by the checkered flag.
With the first yellow flying on Lap 21, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. spun and backed into the wall. The next on-track incident occurred on Lap 358 when Chaser Carl Edwards cut a tire and slammed the Turn 1 wall, bringing his No. 19 to the garage for nearly 20 laps.
“[Goodyear officials] said it was a belt failure,” Edwards said. “We had a good race going, sometimes that’s what happens in racing. Now we go to Texas and try and win.”
Though the race only had five cautions, the least at Martinsville since 1978, the biggest confusion was during the lap 358 caution, which flew during a round of green-flag stops. With NASCAR trying to sort out the running order, the race was under yellow for 28 laps before going back to green.
Many drivers believed the running order was incorrect, including Denny Hamlin.
“We’re in a big-time sport, you have to get it right,” Hamlin said. “There’s nowhere you can’t find it on tape. Somehow, it got all messed up.”
Completing the top 10 was Jeff Gordon, who earned his best finish subbing for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the sixth spot, followed by Martin Truex, Jr., Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano and AJ Allmendinger, grabbing a third consecutive top-10 finish in 10th.
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