The grandfather clock struck win time again for Jimmie Johnson on Sunday as he dominated the STP Gas Booster 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, leading 346 of 500 laps that made up the race en route to his eighth win at Martinsville and eighth grandfather clock trophy. With his eighth win he moved one victory ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon in the category of Martinsville wins to claim sole posession of the honor of winningest active driver at the track.
“Fortunately, we had control of the race late, and was able to hold off a bunch of guys,” Johnson said in victory lane.
Those guys Johnson held off late in the race included Gordon and Clint Bowyer. Bowyer finished second and Gordon was third. Johnson, Bowyer and Gordon restarted first through third on the final restart of the race with eight laps the go. Those same three drivers restarted first through third on a late-race restart at Martinsville last year, with Johnson and Gordon on the front row on older tires and Bowyer behind them on newer tires. All three wrecked racing for the lead last year.
“Fortunately, we didn’t have any craziness with two tires and no tires there at the end, and the fastest car won the race,” Johnson said of Sunday’s race.
With the lead, Johnson was able to control restarts by choosing his lane, and it paid off. Gordon, meanwhile, was hindered by the fact that those late-race restarts were even necessary, as he had a car that was faster on longer runs.
“We just didn’t need those cautions there at the end,” Gordon said. “On the long run, I felt like we had the best car. We just needed more laps there at the end.”
During a green-flag run of almost 90 laps, Gordon was able to make his way up through the field to as high as second with 55 laps to go, but that’s as close to the lead as he was able to get before the yellow flag waved three times in the final 53 laps.
Despite finishing second, Bowyer never led either. The only drivers other than Johnson to lead multiple laps in race were Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Johnson, Busch and Kenseth combined to lead all but two laps. Marcos Ambrose and Travis Kvapil led the other two.
In all, the yellow flag waved 12 times throughout the race, with the final caution resulting in a red flag when Kurt Busch’s No. 78 caught fire after a brake issue and contact with the wall with 15 laps remaining.
“Something happened to the brakes,” Busch said. “They felt spongey in turns three and four.”
Race runner-up Bowyer wasn’t even immune to the action. He was among the nearly dozen drivers who were caught up in a chain reaction incident when Dale Earnhardt Jr. was slow on a restart on lap 180.
“It’s just disappointing. She was just torn up too bad,” Bowyer said of the damage to his car from the incident hindering his shot at the race win.
Kasey Kahne finished fourth, Kyle Busch was fifth, Brad Keselowski sixth, Jamie McMurray seventh, Ambrose eighth, and Greg Biffle ninth. Mark Martin finished 10th, substituting for the injured Denny Hamlin in the No. 11.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR