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Johnson leads chase after Martinsville win

"I've been in these Chases for seven years and I've had my fair share of electrical issues and motor issues and things like that," said Hamlin as he sat in the #11 in the garage as the team worked frantically to track down the short circuit. "All I can do is just drive my heart out and if it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be. We'll have our time, it's just our time is not now."

His words proved accurate: although the Joe Gibbs Racing crew got the car back out on track and Hamlin was able to see out the rest of the race, he was more than 30 laps off the lead by that point and doomed to a 33rd place finish, a huge blow to his Sprint Cup Chase title hopes. It means he drops from third to fifth in the standings, and moreover the gap between him and leader went from a manageable 20pts to a seemingly insurmountable 49pts with just three races remaining in the 2012 season. Hamlin admitted that this was the end for him in terms of running for the title.

"Just have fun, that's all I can do," he said, when asked how he would approach the final races in Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami. "Just go out there and be relaxed and enjoy this championship battle that's shaping up. It's a shame we can't be a part of it, but we're going to try to work our way as far up in the points as we possibly can and just keep digging."

The race restart with exactly 100 laps to go, with Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer once again battling for the lead - and Bowyer once again not holding back in getting physical with the #48 when it suited him. This time Johnson was prepared and wise to it, and all the love taps in the world weren't about to move him out of the way this close to the finish. Bowyer seemed spent by the effort, and not only fell away from the back of Johnson's car but also succumbed to overtaking moves from Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch to demote him to fourth place.

But even out on his own at the front, Johnson was still finding danger: first he made contact with the lapped car of Casey Mears on lap 436 to bump him out of the way, and then a couple of laps later he did the same thing on the #42 of Juan Montoya - and Montoya went for a spin in turn 2, right in front of Johnson who was lucky not to get collected in the process.

That brought out the yellows and allowed everyone who wanted to come into the pits under yellow for fresh tyres. That didn't affect the running order at all - Johnson and Gordon continued to lead Busch, Bowyer, Kahne and Vickers at the restart - and while Johnson had no problem in keeping the top spot over the ensuing laps, the top six remained closely packed and set for a tight finish.

Before we could get to that point, however, there was the first of two final cautions when Kevin Harvick's engine expired on lap 474: "Motor blew-up," Harvick confirmed succinctly. "The motor wouldn't run all day. Couldn't restart in second gear. Just hasn't been a great year. If it isn't one thing, it's another. At least we got the car handling pretty good and we were up inside the top ten."

The leaders once again again opted to pit for fresh rubber, but Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both opted to stay out and duly took the restart at the head of the field - although their older tyres made them easy for Johnson, Busch, Kahne and Gordon to quickly push aside.

There was one more caution of the day - making 11 in total - on lap 490 when Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards tangled in turn 2.

"For about 400 laps I had a really good time,", said Edwards. "I'm not going to worry about the end too much. We just got wrecked, but the race was fun. I had more fun than I've had here in a long time and I credit our guys because they've worked very hard."

That left a six-lap sprint to the chequered flag, with Johnson and Busch starting from the front row and scampering away safely to get to the finish line before anything further untoward could happen to make this day any longer than the three and a half hour marathon it had already been.




Related Pictures

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Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, is involved in an incident as Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, passes during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 28, 2012 in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, races to the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 28, 2012 in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, celebrates with the chequered flag after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 28, 2012 in Ridgeway, Virginia. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, pits along with the rest of the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, and Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Panasonic Chevrolet, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 31, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS, races to win with Kyle Larson, driver of the 42 Target Chevrolet SS beside him finishing in eighth place Sunday, August 31, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. With this win, Kahne, a Hendrick Motorsports driver, is in the Chase. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Farmer`s Insurance Chevrolet SS, is congratulated by his Hendrik Motor Sports teammates Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Panasonic Toughbook Chevrolet SS (left), Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS (center) and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet SS (right) after his victory Sunday, August 31, 2014 in the Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. With this win, Kahne joins Gordon, Johnson, and Earnhardt Jr. in the Chase. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Blaney, driver of the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on August 31, 2014 in Bowmanville, Canada. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 30, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 30, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 30, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 30, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #5 Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet, races Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ford, during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 30, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, qualified for twelfth position Friday, August 29, 2014 for Sunday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. After a three-race absence, Tony Stewart has returned to the track at Atlanta. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, qualified for third position Friday, August 29, 2014 for Sunday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. Larson is 12th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Christa L. Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, won the Pole position Friday, August 29, 2014 for Sunday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. It was Harvick`s sixth pole win of the 2014 season. He is 7th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick (L), driver of the #5 Bad Boy Buggies Chevrolet, talks to Regan Smith, driver of the #7 TaxSlayer Bowl Chevrolet, in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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