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Johnson wins at Martinsville to grab Chase lead

October 28, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com

Jimmie Johnson continued his Martinsville dominance by earning his seventh career win there Sunday in the Tums Fast Relief 500 (Getty Images).

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- 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 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.

* Video: Final Laps | Victory Lane | Post-Race Reactions

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 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.

* Press Pass: Jimmie Johnson | Kyle Busch | Kasey Kahne

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.

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Jimmie Johnson captured his 59th career win in his 396th race.
• Jimmie Johnson took home his seventh Martinsville win in his 22nd race there, tying Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace for third all time.
• Jimmie Johnson's seven victories at Martinsville ties Dover for his most career wins at a single track.
• This was Jimmie Johnson's fifth Chase triumph at Martinsville.
• Jimmie Johnson earned his fourth victory of the season while also garnering his first Chase win of 2012.
• Jimmie Johnson won a Chase race for the 21st time, most of all drivers.
• Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to win a race during every Chase.
• Jimmie Johnson started on the pole, this was the 12th Chase race won by the polesitter, seven have been by Johnson.
• Jimmie Johnson took over the points lead by two points over previous leader Brad Keselowski.
• Jimmie Johnson led eight times for 193 laps on the day, including the final 15 laps.
• Hendrick Motorsports garnered its 207th career win, including its series-leading eighth of 2012.
• Hendrick Motorsports was victorious for the 19th time at Martinsville, tying Petty Enterprises for the most all-time wins at the track.
• Chevrolet snapped a 11-race winless streak with its series-leading 12th win of the year.
• Chevrolet clinched its 36th manufacturers championship with its 50th all-time victory at Martinsville, the most of any manufacturer.
• Kyle Busch (second) posted his best Martinsville finish in his 16th race at the track.
• Kasey Kahne (third) garnered his third top-10 finish at Martinsville in his 18th start and first since finishing 7th in this race in 2006.
• Aric Almirola (fourth) ties his best career finish (Homestead, November 2010).
• Clint Bowyer (fifth) ties his best finish at Martinsville; led 150 laps on the day, now is third in points, 26 back of Johnson.
• Brad Keselowski (sixth) had his best Martinsville finish in his sixth start, he has now had or matched his best finish at a track 16 times in 2012.
• Brian Vickers (eighth) has posted five top-10 finishes in eight starts this season.
• Bobby Labonte (ninth) had his best finish of 2012.
• Denny Hamlin (33rd) had two speeding penalties on the day and also had electrical problems while running third. He now sits fifth in points, 49 back of Johnson.

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