MARTINSVILLE, Va. — For 497 laps on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, a 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports seemed a foregone conclusion.
The only real question was whether Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson would deliver the win in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Between them, Gordon and Johnson led 440 laps. The teammates — with 13 Martinsville victories and nine championships between them — were fighting for the lead late in the race when a yellow flag turned the proceedings inside-out.
Moments after Gordon wrested the top spot from Johnson out of Turn 4 on Lap 497, NASCAR threw a caution because David Reutimann’s No. 10 Chevrolet lost power and stopped at the end of the frontstretch.
That set up a restart on Lap 504 and the wild wreck that followed. Gordon and Johnson, the only two drivers who had stayed out on old tires, left the field to the green. Race winner Ryan Newman gave Clint Bowyer’s Toyota a shove on the frontstretch, and Bowyer took Gordon and Johnson three-wide into the first turn.
Simply put, Bowyer ran out of room, slid into Gordon and spun himself and the Chevys of Gordon and Johnson.
“You’ve got tires, they don’t, and they spin the tires (on the restart),” Bowyer said. “The 39 (Newman) hits you in the rear. I mean, if I didn’t go down there, the 39 (would have), and we all just run out of real estate, and that’s the nature of the beast at this place.”
Johnson said he has learned that three-wide doesn’t work when you get to the corners at Martinsville.
“It’s really inviting to try to make it three-wide on the inside going into the turn, and you do have the room on the straightaway, but when you get to the corner — the way the curb shoots out — there is no inside lane there,” Johnson said.
“Clint put us all in a bad situation and made the dive-bomb in there, and I’m sure once he got inside, he saw what he had in front of him and was trying to wedge a hole, and it just turned us all around. Unfortunate deal, and I just wish he had been a little more patient there and didn’t create that wreck.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished third, didn’t fault Bowyer for trying to win the race.
“The No. 15 (Bowyer) dove to the bottom, and it’s his right,” Earnhardt said. “He was doing what he wanted to do to try and win the race . . . So I think Clint did what he had to do.”