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Jimmie Johnson was poised to deliver his first win of the season in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. But a late-race incident wiped out any chance of Johnson adding another of the track’s iconic trophies, a grandfather clock, to his collection.
With less than five laps to go, Johnson was battling teammate Jeff Gordon for the win – and what would have been Hendrick Motorsports’ historic 200th visit to victory lane – when a caution flew for the stalled car of David Reutimann. On the ensuing restart, Clint Bowyer got inside of Gordon and Johnson. As the cars went three-wide into turn one, contact was made, sending the leaders spinning. Johnson restarted at the end of the lead lap and held on to a 12th-place finish in the MyLowe’s Chevrolet.
The finish wasn’t indicative of how Johnson’s car performed all day. After starting 22nd, Johnson worked his way up into the top 10 by lap 90. A few laps later, he entered the pits for service but penalized for speeding while exiting the pits. Johnson still worked his MyLowe’s Chevy through the field again after restarting 21st.
Johnson had few complaints about his car throughout the event. He pitted on lap 312 and was up to the second place, trying to get past Gordon for the lead. The two pitted 10 laps later, with Gordon edging Johnson off pit road. Crew chief Chad Knaus said during the race that Johnson had passed almost every car on track except the leader. Johnson spent the ensuing laps attempting to make that pass. He succeeded on lap 356, with spotter Earl Barban calling on the radio, “New leader, 48.”
On lap 362, the leaders pitted again. A slight miscue on pit road brought Johnson out of the stop in third place. He spent the next few laps chasing Gordon and new leader Denny Hamlin, as all three drivers dueled in a great display of their mastery of the paperclip-shaped track.
Johnson regained the lead on lap 392. Gordon then spent the next 100 laps trying to catch and pass his teammate. The two raced side by side with less than five laps to go when Reutimann stalled. Johnson and Gordon were side by side on the crucial restart when the contact with Bowyer occurred, triggering the final caution of the race. Johnson entered the pits for four tires and restarted at the end of the lead lap, ending his day in 12th place.
Johnson led three times for 112 laps.
“We just restarted and got going,” said Johnson, who has six wins at Martinsville. “That inside lane is awfully inviting at times to dive-bomb on people. The No. 15 (Clint Bowyer) threw a dive-bomb in there. I’m sure once he got in there and realized it wasn’t the best idea. It turned me around. It turned the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) around. But it is what it is. It’s short-track racing. I certainly wish it wouldn’t have happened, and I wish Clint was more patient there getting started on the restart, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. We’ve still got a decent finish out of it, and so we’ll take some decent points. I really thought we had a chance to get Rick (Hendrick) his 200th win today, and it is just unfortunate that this MyLowes Chevrolet is all beat up and didn’t have a chance to get the trophy.”
Gordon finished 14th. Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. supplied the organization with its best finish, third place. Kasey Kahne had engine issues and fell out of the race early, finishing 38th.
Ryan Newman won the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 to score his 16th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Martinsville.
A.J. Allmendinger finished .342 of a second behind Newman in the runner-up spot, while Earnhardt, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top-five. Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Bowyer comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were seven caution periods for 56 laps, with nine drivers failing to finish the 515-lap race, which was extended 15 laps by a green-white-checkered finish.
With round six of 36 complete, Earnhardt leads the Hendrick Motorsports contingent in the championship point standings. He is second with 220 points, six behind series leader Greg Biffle. Johnson is 10th with 189 points, 37 out of first. Gordon sits 21st with 136 points, 90 out. Kahne is 31st with 93 points, 133 behind the leader.
The Sprint Cup Series takes a rare weekend off before returning to action Saturday, April 14 for the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.