Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowes Chevrolet, came to Martinsville Speedway with one thing on his mind. Leave town with a trophy at the Tums Fast Relief 500, and leave town with the Sprint Cup points lead. He accomplished both on Sunday at the worlds largest Paper Clip. Not once during pre-race interviews, did I get a sense the five time Sprint Cup winner believed anything different.
Johnson held off Kyle Busch late in Sunday’s race at the .526 mile short track to get his fourth win of the 2012 season, and his seventh at Martinsville, which ties him with all time wins there with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, and former Miller Lite driver, Rusty Wallace.
“I’m ecstatic about the win today and ecstatic about the point lead, but this is no cakewalk,” Johnson said. “I feel as focused and as prepared as I’ve ever been. We have some very smart guys with experience on this team, and everybody is managing their emotions well and working very hard on their individual positions.
“Our young group of over-the-wall guys, they’re standing the test of time. They’re dealing with a lot of pressure each time on pit road and executing very well.”
Brad Keselowski spent most of the day digging himself out of bad track position caused by a poor qualifying effort on Friday. He started 32nd, and brought his Miller Lite Dodge home in sixth place, relinquishing his points lead to Johnson. The damage was minimum, as he only trails the Lowes Chevrolet by 2 points as they head into Texas next week.
The big looser on the day was Denny Hamlin. Hamlin experienced electrical problems late in the race with his Federal Express Toyota, and by the time his crew got the problem sorted out, he was 34 laps down. He finished in 33rd place, and dropped to fifth place, 49 points behind Johnson. With only three races left, he is pretty much done for the chase in 2012.
Kasey Kahne turned in a good effort finishing third on the day, and keeping his chase hopes alive, albeit small. He moves up to fourth, but is still 29 points back, and needing a miracle to close the deal.
Clint Bowyer just won’t go away. He led 154 laps on the day, and brought his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyoya home in fifth place, keeping himself in the chase picture. He finishes Sunday in third place in the standings, 20 points behind the leader. Like Kasey Kahne, he needs some bad luck to fall on both Johnson and Keselowski to realistically have a chance.
Having good runs on the day were Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola, who finished fourth, and Brian Vickers, who was in the #55 MWR ride, finished eighth. Former Joe Gibbs driver, and 2000 Winston Cup Champ Bobby Labonte brought his JTG Toyota in ninth. Greg Biffle rounded out the top ten.
In his first race since returning from self disclosed head injuries sustained in a testing run at Kansas, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a pretty good run, but failing to pit for tires on the final caution at lap 491, and leading the pack to the green flag with Brad Keselowski, he was a sitting duck. He was passed quickly by the leaders who had fresh tires, and finished 21st.
It’s on to Texas next weekend for the AAA Texas 500. It pretty much has become the two horse race I predicted in an earlier post, but the missing driver will be Denny Hamlin. Now we will have youth and inexpierence against a battle tested warrior down the stretch. Does everyone remember what happened to Goliath?
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