Chase for the Sprint Cup Rundown: Martinsville

Jimmie Johnson drove to victory lane in Martinsville and took over the Chase points lead. Johnson is now two points ahead of Brad Keselowski. (Getty Images)

Martinsville, Va., — It was Déjà vu in Martinsville with Jimmie Johnson claiming a seventh trophy from the circuit’s smallest track. Johnson was able to hold off Kyle Busch to take the checkers, and the points lead. Kasey Kahne finished third, Aric Almirola was fourth, and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup moves west to Texas Motor Speedway as just three races remain in the 2012 season.

Jimmie Johnson
Johnson picked up his first 2012 Chase win and takes over the Chase lead by just two points.

“Today was a tough day, there were a variety of cars that had control over the race at different points,” said Johnson. “You just can’t count out good race teams and when you get to the playoffs you it doesn’t matter what sport it is, teams step up and show what they’re made of and we’ve seen a lot of teams do it in this Chase.”

Johnson leads the field at Martinsville Speedway. Johnson picked up the first Chase win in 2012 for the No. 48 team. (Getty Images)

“Our team came out on top today and a few more races of doing that and we should be in good shape,” Johnson added.

Brad Keselowski (-2)
A miscue in qualifying had Keselowski taking the green flag in the 32nd position, but Keselowski and the No. 2 team rallied to finish sixth. Crew chief Paul Wolfe used strategy in the form of two tires instead of four, and staying out on the last caution to gain track position that paid off.

“It just means you can’t count this team out,” said Keselowski. “This team has a tremendous amount of heart and I’m proud of them.”

“I know this championship is going to come down to Homestead and you just have to be in a position where you’ve got a shot at it, and we’re doing the things that it’s going to take to be in contention at Homestead,” Keselowski said. “We’ve got Texas coming up that’s very similar to Chicago and I’m sure it’s going to be a duel with the No. 48 (Johnson) there, so we’ll keep fighting the good fight.”

Clint Bowyer (-26)
In the final laps Bowyer traded paint with Jeff Gordon before settling in for the fifth place finish. Bowyer said he did not intend to make contact with Gordon, but as Gordon turned left to block it happened.

“I was just there and he just kept turning left on me,” said Bowyer. “It is what it is.”

“It was a good day for us,” Bowyer added. “I thought we had a car capable of winning, but as soon as it got cool I got a bit tight and we lost track position out of the pits there and I could never regain it.”

Kasey Kahne (-29)
Third place seemed like a battle for Kahne, who felt they “were right there” to get a victory.

“I think my window to race in is really small at this track and I make it hard for Kenny Francis (crew chief) and those guys,” said Kahne. “The first round I’ll be loose and then the next round I’ll be tight, it’s just so hard to find that fine line”

“We got third and that’s my best run in a long time here and it felt pretty good all day,” Kahne added.

The No. 11 crew diagnoses electrical issues that brought Hamlin to the garage with just 11 laps remaining. Hamlin finished 33rd. (Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin (-49)
Hamlin may have overcame pit road speeding penalties, but was unable to overcome electrical issues that forced the No. 11 to the garage with only 100 laps left. Hamlin said when things like this happen “you just have to suck it up and move on.”

Hamlin, who finished 33rd, said he was doing what crew chief Darian Grubb told him to do.

“They (team) assured me that there was no way to speed on entry with the timing lines and I think there was a little bit of an underestimation of how quick these cars can launch when you do take off,” Hamlin said. “I think there was something more to that than what we thought.”

“It was nothing we couldn’t overcome,” added Hamlin, who drove back into contention twice. “Sucks it has to end this way, but we just have to suck it up and move on.”

Jeff Gordon (-54)
Jeff Gordon was one of the best cars throughout the race, but finished seventh after being “sitting ducks on the outside” on the final restart.

“This team made an amazing effort,” said Gordon. “The pit stops were great, the car was dialed in, I think we wore the left rear tire out or something on that real long run and it started getting extremely loose and we made a nice came back from there.”

“The last thing we wanted was to be on the outside on those last restarts and we were, and that cost us,” Gordon added.

Martin Truex, Jr. (-63)
Truex finished 23rd and tweeted after the race: “Another frustrating Martinsville. We had a good car and I screwed up a restart and got a drive thru penalty.”

Matt Kenseth (-35)
Kenseth finished 15th.

Greg Biffle (-48)
Biffle finished 10th in what he described as “a pretty good day overall.”

“The second-to-last set of tires went the wrong way for us,” said Biffle. “I just didn’t have the grip.”

“It would slide the front and spin the back and then we pitted again and a lot of guys stayed out or took two,” Biffle said. “That would have been a great option for us, other than we really felt like we needed to put four on to be competitive, or we could have stayed out with Brad because we were faster than Brad and those guys.”

Tony Stewart (-43)
Stewart finished 27th.

Kevin Harvick (-52)
Harvick finished 32nd after an engine expired on lap 475. Harvick was running inside the top-10 after adjustments on pit road.

“The motor wouldn’t run all day,” Harvick said. “I Couldn’t restart in second gear.”

“Just hasn’t been a great year,” added Harvick. “If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.”

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was back on the track in Martinsville following a two week hiatus to recover from a concussion suffered in Talladega. Earnahardt finished 21st. (Getty Images)

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-58)
Earnhardt’s return to the track yielded a 21st place finish, which does not state where the team was during the race. Earnhardt started 20th and broke into the top-15 before hitting lap 20, but the handling was not overly consistent.

“We didn’t have a really good car and fought some issues all day long,” said Earnhardt. “Just made some poor choices at the end that got us run over.”

Earnhardt was one of only two cars that stayed out during a late race caution and was quickly shuffled back once the race restarted. Earnhardt was involved in an incident that brought out the final caution when the No. 99 of Carl Edwards made contact with Earnhardt sending both spinning both into the outside wall.

Earnhardt was “just really pissed off about how we finished that race.” Edwards did visit with Earnhardt following the race to discuss the incident.

“That it was just a tough deal,” said Earnhardt of the incident. “Somebody had run over somebody from way back.”

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