Sunday, October 30, 2016

Johnson Wins at Martinsville, Clinches Championship Spot

Originally written for CLNS Radio.

Jimmie Johnson won the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 from Martinsville Speedway on Sunday to lock himself into the Championship Round of the Chase.

Johnson led 92 laps on his way to his ninth-career victory at Martinsville.  On the final restart, Johnson had to race Denny Hamlin for the lead, who is one of the best when it comes to racing at Martinsville.  Once Johnson got around Hamlin, he pulled away over the final 30 laps.
Robert Laberge (Getty Images)
Johnson said the way the race played out suited his car’s setup.

“Coming into this race, there are so many challenges at this track,” Johnson said.  “Having those long runs really suit my style and my car.”

Johnson will now head to Homestead-Miami Speedway in three weeks to fight for his record-tying seventh Championship.  If Johnson is the top-finishing Chase driver at Homestead, he will tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers to win seven championships.  Johnson said he was trying not to think about that scenario for as long as he could.

“I’ve been trying to ignore this conversation about seven, but now I can’t,” Johnson said.  “Probably going to lie…and say I’m not going to think about it at all, but it’s inevitable.”

“We’re going to enjoy this and savor this, and try to get our ducks in a row for Homestead.”

Hamlin finished third after racing Johnson hard after the final restart.  Martinsville is Hamlin’s best track, and he said a change they made under the final caution cost them a chance at the win.

“We thought we were going to come back out under green flag conditions, and we made an adjustment for that and it was just not good,” Hamlin said.  “A race-winning car at times, but definitely not at the end.”

Hamlin raced hard with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch over the final run, which allowed Johnson and Brad Keselowski to pull away. Hamlin said they will have to fight for every position in the next few weeks.

“Well, you try to do everything you can to hold them off, but you’ve got to be realistic too,” Hamlin said.  

Busch was less optimistic following the race, and said he was frustrated with the way his teammates raced.

“We work so good together we gave the 48 [of Johnson] a win,” Busch said.

Unofficial results:
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Denny Hamlin
4. Matt Kenseth
5. Kyle Busch
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Martin Truex Jr.
8. Jamie McMurray
9. Joey Logano
10. AJ Allmendinger
11. Kasey Kahne
12. Chase Elliott
13. Greg Biffle
14. Kyle Larson
15. Aric Almirola
16. Ryan Newman
17. Austin Dillon
18. Michael McDowell
19. Ryan Blaney
20. Kevin Harvick
21. Casey Mears
22. Kurt Busch
23. Trevor Bayne
24. Danica Patrick
25. Paul Menard
26. Tony Stewart
27. Chris Buescher
28. Clint Bowyer
29. Landon Cassill
30. Regan Smith
31. Dylan Lupton
32. Matt DiBenedetto
33. Jeffrey Earnhardt
34. Brian Scott
35. Michael Annett
36. Carl Edwards
37. David Ragan
38. Reed Sorenson
39. Gray Gaulding
40. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Chris Trotman (Getty Images)

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