Johnson Takes Command At Martinsville
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jimmie Johnson took command of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with a victory Sunday during the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Johnson started from the pole and dominated the race, leading 191 of the 500 laps en route to his seventh victory at the historic .526-mile asphalt oval. However, the victory didn’t come easy.
Jeff Gordon was attempting to work his way around Johnson when the caution flag waved on lap 474 when Kevin Harvick’s engine expired. All of the lead-lap cars pitted under caution except championship leader Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Johnson restarted third behind Keselowski and Earnhardt and quickly drove his way around both drivers, retaking the lead on lap 485. On lap 491 the final caution flag of the day waved when Carl Edwards and Earnhardt spun in turn two, giving second-place Kyle Busch one final shot at Johnson.
The field returned to green-flag racing with five laps left and Johnson quickly pulled into the lead with Busch in hot pursuit. Busch gave it everything he could, but Johnson was able to hold on for the victory.
“I think we’ve learned our lesson here in the past about not pitting late. That certainly came into play and we made the right decision there,” Johnson said. “I’m ecstatic about the win today, I’m ecstatic about the points lead, but this is no cake walk. These guys are bringing their best each and every week and we’ve got to keep working hard to keep the Lowe’s Chevy up front.”
Kasey Kahne finished third, followed by Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer. Keselowski ended the race in sixth and now sits two points behind Johnson in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship standings.
“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.”
Denny Hamlin shot at the championship likely came to an end Sunday when his No. 11 Toyota had electrical issues. He stalled his car on the front stretch to bring out a caution on lap 391 and ended the race in 33rd position, 34 laps off the pace.
Hamlin is now fifth in the Sprint Cup standings, 49 points behind Johnson. He entered the race third in the standings, 20 points out of the lead.