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Hamlin wins in Martinsville, closes on Johnson

by Pete McCole
Sunday, October 24, 2010

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Denny Hamlin celebrates his TUMS Fast Relief 500 win
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Just when Jimmie Johnson thought he was going to run away with the points lead and a solid bid on a fifth-straight NASCAR Sprint Cup series title, hometown favorite Denny Hamlin was there to rain on his parade.

Hamlin passed Kevin Harvick with 29 laps to go to post his third consecutive Martinsville Speedway win in Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500, cutting Johnson’s points lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings to just six points.

Mark Martin rallied from a mid-race crash to finish second. Harvick held on for third and is now 62 points behind Johnson. Kyle Busch came home fourth to hold onto fourth in the standings, 172 points back of Johnson, who rounded out the top five.

Hamlin led just two times for 40 laps, but showed his muscle down the stretch as he stalked Harvick’s teammate Jeff Burton for nearly 50 laps before finally reeling in Harvick on lap 471 and going on to win his seventh race of the season and the 15th of his career.

“I don’t think I’ve ever closed that well – ever,” said Hamlin. “We kept working. We did not have a race-winning car all day until the very end. Mike (Ford, crew chief) and those guys just adjusted and adjusted. The pit crew got me from sixth to third on that last restart and that was the key – bottom line that was the key.”

“We kept fighting, kept digging, kept making up spots throughout the day and just had the best car at the end. I just can’t say enough for everyone who put all the work in to get this done. This is a come-from-behind victory.”

Taking the green flag from the pole, Hamlin led just the opening 10 laps before fading back to mid-pack with an ill-handling racecar, but managed to get the right adjustments from his pit crew to get the no. 11 FedEx Toyota back into the top five.

Coming off pit road in third behind Burton and Harvick following the final round of pit stops, Hamlin patiently bided his time while the Richard Childress Racing duo tried to distance themselves from the field. 

Hamlin’s methodical approach worked as Burton and Harvick slowly began falling back to Hamlin, who would go to take the checkered flag in victory he had to have to keep his title hopes alive.

“Who said it was over?  Told you it wasn't over,” said Hamlin of the points battle. “I was just waiting and hoping that the 31 (Jeff Burton) and 29 (Kevin Harvick) would use their stuff up racing each other. I was just sitting there and sitting there trying to be patient with those rear tires and saved it for the end.”

Harvick had one of the most dominant cars in the field, leading 97 laps despite a dismal qualifying effort that landed him 36th on the grid, moving up through traffic to grab the lead on 172 and trading the top spot with Burton for much of the next 55 laps.

Although it was not a victory for Harvick, the third-place showing keeps in the hunt for his first series title.

“Those guys on pit road were just awesome today and really kept us up and in front and in the race. And that's what we've got to do,” said Harvick. “We kept the No. 48 (Jimmie Johnson) behind us and the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) in sight and what everybody said was a two-horse race and we were right there in the middle of it. So, it's a lot of fun. Right now we've got four more weeks.”

Johnson started off the day looking to extend his points lead before heading into next week’s meat-grinder of a race at Talladega.

Starting off 19th, Johnson never led a lap but did not stray far from the top 10 despite some damage to his car from a rub from Marcos Ambrose.

Over the final quarter of the race, Johnson began clawing his way back into the top five and hung on for his 15th top-five finish of the season and retain a slim lead in the points standings.

“It was a solid performance; something we can't be disappointed in. I wish we were a little better but there is a lot of racing left,” said Johnson. “Happy to still be leading.  Wish the margin had gone the other way.  Denny won the race, closed it up.  We'll buckle down, go to work the next four. We're rolling into Talladega.  We all know what can happen there.”

While Johnson may have managed to salvage a decent finish, Jeff Gordon saw his hopes for a fifth title all but vanish after backing into the wall off the bumper of Kurt Busch.

156 points of first place at the start of the race, Gordon led 56 laps at the midway point of the race and was looking at a solid top-five finish before pushing Busch aside for 12th place on lap 386.

Busch came right back and nailed the no. 24 Chevrolet in the left rear and sent Gordon backwards into the inside wall in a retaliatory strike that destroyed Gordon’s rear clip and his championship run along with it, now 203 points behind Johnson.

Joey Logano finished sixth, followed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who picked up just his second top-10 finish in the last 14 races.

Carl Edwards finished eighth to move to sixth in the points standings. Burton was ninth followed by Brad Keselowski.

Tony Stewart finished 24th to drop to seventh in the points standings. Jeff Burton dropped two spots to eighth, followed by Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and Clint Bowyer.

Results

FIN CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Express 190/5 500 Running
2 5 Mark Martin Chevrolet eBay Motors / GoDaddy.com 170/0 500 Running
3 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Shell / Pennzoil 170/5 500 Running
4 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's 160/0 500 Running
5 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 155/0 500 Running
6 20 Joey Logano Toyota GameStop PowerUp Rewards 150/0 500 Running
7 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Amp Energy / National Guard 151/5 500 Running
8 99 Carl Edwards Ford Aflac 142/0 500 Running
9 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar 148/10 500 Running
10 12 Brad Keselowski Dodge Penske Racing 134/0 500 Running
11 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Tracker 130/0 500 Running
12 43 A.J. Allmendinger Ford Insignia HDTV / Best Buy 127/0 500 Running
13 98 Paul Menard Ford Energizer / Menards 124/0 500 Running
14 83 Kasey Kahne Toyota Red Bull 121/0 500 Running
15 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Crown Royal Black 118/0 500 Running
16 2 Kurt Busch Dodge Operation Home Front / Miller Lite 115/0 500 Running
17 6 David Ragan Ford UPS 112/0 500 Running
18 26 Ken Schrader Ford Air National Guard 114/5 500 Running
19 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 106/0 500 Running
20 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet National Guard Families Appreciation / DuPont 108/5 498 Running
21 9 Aric Almirola Ford Budweiser 100/0 498 Running
22 7 Robby Gordon Toyota Extenze 102/5 498 Running
23 82 Scott Speed Toyota Red Bull 94/0 498 Running
24 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Office Depot / Old Spice 96/5 498 Running
25 77 Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge Mobil 1 88/0 496 Running
26 71 Hermie Sadler Chevrolet ModSpace / TRG Motorsports 85/0 496 Running
27 00 David Reutimann Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 87/5 494 Running
28 19 Elliott Sadler Ford Stanley 79/0 474 Running
29 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts 76/0 473 Running
30 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Tornados 78/5 455 Running
31 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row Companies 70/0 442 Running
32 34 Tony Raines Ford A&W All American Food 67/0 437 Running
33 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M 64/0 432 Running
34 47 Marcos Ambrose Toyota Dollar General Country Million Sweepstakes 66/5 428 Running
35 38 Travis Kvapil Ford Long John Silver's 58/0 423 In Pit
36 36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet Tommy Baldwin Racing 55/0 418 Running
37 37 David Gilliland Ford Taco Bell 52/0 382 Running
38 33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet BB&T 49/0 359 Running
39 81 J.J. Yeley Dodge Red Line Oil 46/0 282 Running
40 13 Casey Mears Toyota GEICO 48/5 271 Out of Race
41 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota HeatRedefined.com 40/0 264 Running
42 164 Landon Cassill Toyota Gunselman Motorsports 37/0 200 Running
43 09 Bobby Labonte Chevrolet C&J Energy 34/0 197 Running

* Denotes Rookie

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