Johnson nearly helps Hendrick celebrate in style
March 30, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
MARTINSVILLE Va. -- The man that seemingly couldn't lose at Martinsville Speedway lost at Martinsville Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson, an eight-time winner here, was beaten despite holding the lead as late as Lap 489 of the 500-lap event and despite leading 296 laps on the 0.526-mile track.
No one else was even close.
There were a record number of lead changes (33 in all), but Johnson, to no one's surprise, was once again in charge in the waning laps.
Until Kurt Busch suddenly appeared in the rear-view mirror of the Hendrick Motorsports driver.
Busch, the guy who won here in 2002, Johnson's first full season in Cup.
Before Sunday, Busch hadn't been back to Victory Lane at Martinsville. Meanwhile, Johnson was handed his own personal key.
None of that mattered. Johnson's strength was there, but Busch was simply better when it counted.
When the checkered flag waved, Busch was first across the stripe with Johnson, 0.263 seconds later, trailing in second.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose completed the top five.
"There wasn’t anything else I could do," explained Johnson. "Man, I got back by him (after losing the lead on Lap 473) and I thought that we had control of the race then. I felt like since I hadn't seen him through really any part of the day that he might have me on short‑run speed but he would fall off.
"He stayed in my mirror and found a way back by me (with 11 to go) and then got a car length or so on me and did an awesome job. I wish I could have gotten the win here for the 30th anniversary, but I came up a little short, but it wasn't for a lack of effort."
Hendrick Motorsports, which fields NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams for drivers Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, scored its first career Cup victory 30 years ago at Martinsville.
Hendrick the team owner, met with the media before Sunday's race, and spoke of the highs and lows of three decades in the sport. His organization's 219 wins is the second-most in the series.
Hendrick also mentioned how he hoped one of his teams could emerge with the win again here at Martinsville.
Johnson almost delivered.
"Today, I couldn’t have done any more," Johnson said. "I just got beat. You're going to have those, too, and you've got to recognize when you get beat and you've got to recognize when you make mistakes, and today we just got beat.
"This track is in the Chase, so we'll come back a lot smarter and try to prevent running second again. You just learn from the situation … you learn from this weekend and carry it forward.
"This is a brand new car and a lot of stuff to figure out, so I know in the coming months the car's setups will be a lot different, and we'll just keep evolving and try to prevent running second."