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Magic 8th for Johnson at Martinsville

"We had a right-front tyre go down," he explained. "That obviously put us behind. NASCAR penalized us for intentionally bringing out the caution, so they held us for three laps. I felt like I didn't have a whole lot of choice, or else I would have wrecked half the field. We lost another right front not long after that, and our day was pretty much done from there."

At the restart on lap 367, the momentum swung further away from the JGR duo and back into the hands of the Hendrick stable, with Johnson taking back the lead and Kahne soon joining him by surging back into contention to take up residence in second place. That was ahead of Kenseth, who was himself soon displaced from third by Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer with a hundred laps to go to the finish.

50 laps later and the Hendrick duopoly became a three-way with Jeff Gordon surging to the front past Bowyer and the JGR cars just in time for the tenth caution of the day triggered by Bowyer's MWR team mate Brian Vickers spinning in turn 2 with a blown left rear tyre. That allowed the cars to come in for the final time, and a suspect call by a NASCAR official who deemed the #2 not to be properly within its pit stall cost Brad Keselowski multiple positions, dropping the reigning Cup champion down to 11th place. Further up the line, Johnson and Gordon resumed the race in the lead ahead of Bowyer and Busch, with Kahne now alongside Kenseth for the green flag on lap 459.

It was only seven quick laps before the next caution, however, triggered when Brian Vickers rubbed into Danica Patrick which resulted in her nudging Dale Earnhardt Jr. into a spin; and the next green flag stint lasted only 14 laps before the 12th caution, this time triggered by Kurt Busch's #78 Furniture Row Racing car spectacularly going up in flames after crashing into the wall in turns 1 and 2 on lap 486 after a brake failure, forcing Kurt to abandon ship at high speed as the fire crew scrambled to the scene. Busch was uninjured and even had the presence of mind to trigger the car's built-in extinguisher as he scrambled clear, but the yellow flags were briefly made red to facilitate the clean-up.

“Something let go in the brakes," he explained after being checked over in the medical centre. " The brakes got real spongy and then the pedal went straight to the floor. I had to turn the car to the right otherwise I was going to hit harder than what we did.

"Fuel pump issue and then a brake issue, bummer day for the Furniture Row guys," he added. "It's one of those things where we were running 38th, 20 laps down - what more can go wrong? But I will find it out there for sure!"

As the race resumed, Johnson was still in charge with Bowyer running second ahead of Gordon, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and now Kevin Harvick displacing Kasey Kahne from the top six. The top five opted to stay out and not pit for fresh tyres, but Harvick rolled the dice and rejoined in 13th place hoping to make up the positions in the final ten lap dash to the chequered flag.

Staying out proved to be the right call: Harvick made no forward progress in the final seconds of the race, and Johnson held on to the lead to win by 0.628s over Bowyer and collect his eighth Martinsville grandfather clock - the unique trophy given to winners of this event on the Cup calendar.

“It was just a long-fought day," said Johnson afterwards. "Fortunately we didn't have any craziness with two tyres or four tyres at the end ... It was just a hard race." He added: "It's springtime, life is good - we've had two wins this year!"

Behind Bowyer, Jeff Gordon finished in third place while Kahne got the jump on Busch to finish in fourth place making it three Hendrick cars in the top four. Gordon was still disappointed not to steal the win away from his team mate, but confessed that it had been his error that had likely cost him the win.




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