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Johnson holds off Busch in Martinsville

NASCAR Sprint Cup
Sunday, October 28, 2012

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Jimmie Johnson
Getty Images for NASCAR
Mr. Martinsville is back -- with mission accomplished.

With surgical precision, polesitter Jimmie Johnson triumphed at one of his best race tracks, gathering steam toward a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title while fending off a strong performance from his closest challenger for the championship.

Holding off Kyle Busch during a five-lap closing green-flag run at Martinsville Speedway, Johnson won Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 at the .526-mile short track and grabbed the series lead from sixth-place finisher Brad Keselowski.

Johnson's fourth victory of the season and his seventh at Martinsville -- tying him for third all-time with Rusty Wallace and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon -- leaves the five-time Cup champion in a familiar position. Johnson holds a two-point lead over second-place Keselowski with three races left in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

"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."

Busch finished second, .479 seconds behind the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet, who won for the 59th time in his career.

Kasey Kahne ran third, followed by Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 21st in his return to racing after a two-week hiatus. Earnhardt missed two races on doctor's orders after sustaining his second concussion in six weeks Oct. 7 at Talladega.

Johnson had the lead on Lap 491 when a chain-reaction spin involving Sam Hornish Jr., Carl Edwards and Earnhardt caused the 11th caution and set up a restart on Lap 496.

For practical purposes, however, the winning move came on Lap 476 when Johnson and most of the other lead-lap cars opted to pit for tires under the 10th caution, caused by Kevin Harvick's blown engine.

Keselowski and Earnhardt stayed on the track and led the field to the green flag on Lap 481. Earnhardt fell back immediately, but Keselowski stubbornly clung to the top spot until Johnson passed him on Lap 486.

"I think we've learned our lesson here in the past in not pitting late, and that certainly came into play, and we made the right decision there," Johnson said.

Five laps after Johnson grabbed the lead, Hornish spun Edwards in Turn 2, and Edwards' Ford slid into Earnhardt's Chevrolet, knocking him out of the racing groove. After the restart on Lap 496, Busch got to Johnson's bumper through Turns 1 and 2 on the final circuit, but deft driving on Johnson's part kept Busch at bay.

"Jimmie did a good job," Busch said. "He's a five-time champion, six-time champion -- probably six -- for a reason. Getting into (Turn) 1, I got to his rear bumper. Didn't want to move him out of the way. He slowed the corner down, protected the bottom. 

"When I went back to the gas, I spun my tires and got loose, (and) he squirted away from me. No chance of getting back to him in 3 and 4. He manipulated my car the way he needed to protect himself for the last corner down there in 3 and 4."

Denny Hamlin's championship hopes sustained a crushing blow when his No. 11 suffered electrical problems late in the race. After intermittent losses of power, Hamlin's car stalled on the frontstretch on Lap 391, causing the eighth caution of the race.

By the time his crew identified and fixed the problem -- a broken post on the master cutoff switch -- Hamlin was 34 laps down and mired in 33rdplace, his finishing position. Hamlin dropped from third to fifth in the standings, 49 points behind Johnson and all but out of contention for the title.

Johnson's victory gave Chevrolet its 10th straight Cup manufacturers' championship and 36th overall.

Results

FIN CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 48/2 500 Running
2 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's Halloween 42/0 500 Running
3 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet HendrickCars.com 42/1 500 Running
4 43 Aric Almirola Ford Gwaltney 40/0 500 Running
5 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 5-Hour Energy Benefiting Avon Foundation for Women 40/1 500 Running
6 2 Brad Keselowski Dodge Miller Lite 39/1 500 Running
7 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Pepsi Max 38/1 500 Running
8 55 Brian Vickers Toyota MyClassicGarage.com 37/1 500 Running
9 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Pine Sol 35/0 500 Running
10 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M 34/0 500 Running
11 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Quicken Loans 33/0 500 Running
12 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Zecol / Menards 32/0 500 Running
13 22 Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge Shell / Pennzoil 0 500 Running
14 78 Kurt Busch Chevrolet Furniture Row / Farm American 30/0 500 Running
15 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Ford EcoBoost 30/1 500 Running
16 20 Joey Logano Toyota The Home Depot / redbeacon.com 28/0 500 Running
17 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet McDonald's 27/0 500 Running
18 99 Carl Edwards Ford Geek Squad 26/0 500 Running
19 83 Landon Cassill Toyota Burger King / Dr Pepper 25/0 500 Running
20 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 24/0 500 Running
21 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard / AMP Energy 23/0 500 Running
22 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Odyssey / EnerSys 22/0 500 Running
23 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts 21/0 500 Running
24 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Black & Decker 20/0 500 Running
25 13 Casey Mears Ford GEICO 19/0 500 Running
26 34 David Ragan Ford Where's Waldo 19/1 500 Running
27 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Office Depot / Mobil 1 17/0 498 Running
28 51 AJ Allmendinger Chevrolet Phoenix Construction 16/0 498 Running
29 32 Ken Schrader Ford Southern Pride Trucking / U.S. Chrome 15/0 495 Running
30 38 David Gilliland Ford Long John Silver's 14/0 494 Running
31 93 Travis Kvapil Toyota Burger King / Dr Pepper 14/1 492 Running
32 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Rheem "Chasing the Cure" 12/0 473 Running
33 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Express 12/1 466 Running
34 33 Stephen Leicht * Chevrolet Little Joes Autos.com 10/0 253 Running
35 36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet Mohawk Northeast / TMone Call Center 9/0 193 Running
36 10 David Reutimann Chevrolet @TMone Drive Sales Fast 8/0 185 Running
37 195 Scott Speed Ford Jordan Truck Sales 7/0 116 Running
38 26 Josh Wise * Ford MDS Transport 6/0 85 Running
39 98 Michael McDowell Ford Phil Parsons Racing 5/0 61 Running
40 30 David Stremme Toyota Inception Motorsports 4/0 46 Running
41 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota AM / FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves 0 35 Running
42 23 Scott Riggs Chevrolet North Texas Pipe 2/0 22 Running
43 191 Reed Sorenson Toyota Plinker Tactical 0 19 Running

* Denotes Rookie

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