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Johnson pulls away for win at Martinsville / March 29, 2009
By Reid Spencer
Sporting News
NASCAR Wire Service

MARTINSVILLE, Va.—On the 25th anniversary of Rick Hendrick’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win as a car owner, it was more of the same for Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson.

An aggressive pass of Denny Hamlin on Lap 485 of the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 gave Johnson the lead Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, and he pulled away to beat Hamlin by .774 seconds. The victory was Johnson’s first of the season and the 41st of his career; he now has six wins at Martinsville—five in the past six races. It was Hendrick’s 18th win at the .526-mile track.

Tony Stewart ran third, followed by polesitter and series points leader Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer. Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., AJ Allmendinger and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top 10.

Hamlin, who led a race-high 296 laps, had wrested the lead from Johnson with a bold move to the inside on a Lap 456 restart. Johnson trailed Hamlin through two short green-flag runs and two cautions before Johnson saw his opportunity seven laps after a restart on Lap 478.

Entering Turn 3 on Lap 485, Johnson nosed beneath Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota. Hamlin squeezed Johnson to the inside and the No. 48 Chevy bounced off the inside curb. Johnson slid up the track, and contact between the two lead cars allowed Johnson to pass for the lead.

“I felt like I was a little bit better than the 11 on the long runs,” Johnson said. “I was able to stay with him and got closer and closer, and I went into Turn 3 and got inside of him. I think he was trying to not leave me a lot of room, which is what you do, and before I knew it, I was up on the curb and we had made contact and were sliding sideways.

“It certainly wasn’t something intentional. I was just trying to get in there and get the win. I was in there, and he was coming down and we made some contact. Fortunately, neither one of us spun out, and he was able to recover and finish second.”

Hamlin, who hasn’t won a race since his victory at Martinsville a year ago, was gracious in his assessment of Johnson’s move.

“It’s short-track racing—that’s all the fans could ask for right there,” Hamlin said. “We tried to do our best to hold him off. You fight for every inch around this racetrack, and he got the better of us today. If the roles were reversed, I’d do the same thing—and, believe me, I will if it ever comes back around.”

For more than 400 laps, it was a two-man show that didn’t involve Johnson. Gordon led 141 of the first 155 laps before Hamlin powered inside of Gordon off Turn 4 on Lap 156 and held the top spot for 187 laps until Gordon slipped past on Lap 343.

Six laps later, Hamlin regained the lead in traffic.

Quick work in the pits under caution got Johnson out first for a restart on Lap 434, and he retained the top spot until Hamlin’s dive to the inside on Lap 456—a move arranged with the help of teammate Kyle Busch, who was the first lapped car on the inside lane when the field took the green flag for the restart. Busch gave Hamlin enough room to drive to the inside of Johnson as the cars raced toward the first corner.

Notes: Six of the top eight positions went to Hendrick cars (Johnson, Gordon, Martin and Earnhardt) and Hendrick affiliates (Stewart and Newman of Stewart-Haas Racing). ... The Busch brothers’ streak of three straight race wins ended with a whimper. Kurt started second but faded as the race progressed, finishing 18th. A tire problem cost Kyle two laps in the early stages, dropping him to 24th at the finish. ... Gordon extended his lead in the points standings to 89 over second-place Bowyer and 132 over Kurt Busch. ... Geoff Bodine won the 1984 Sovran Bank 500 at Martinsville, the first Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson’s victory on Sunday was Hendrick’s 176th.

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