On the 25th anniversary of Rick Hendrick's first NASCAR Cup Series win as a car owner, it was more of the same for the veteran as Jimmie Johnson took his fifth win in the last six races at Martinsville.

An aggressive lap 485 pass on Denny Hamlin was enough to give the reigning Cup Series champion the lead of the Goody's Fast Pain Relief 500, and he pulled away thereafter to win by 0.774secs. The victory was Johnson's first of the season, but the 41st of his career and his sixth at Martinsville. It was also Hendrick's 18th win at the 0.526-mile track.

Hamlin, who led a race-high 296 laps, had wrested the lead from Johnson with a bold move to the inside on a lap 456 restart, and the Lowe's Chevrolet trailed through two short green flag runs and two cautions before Johnson saw his opportunity seven laps after another restart on lap 478.

Entering turn three on lap 485, Johnson nosed beneath Hamlin's #11 FedEx Toyota and, although Hamlin squeezed him to the inside, the #48 Chevy bounced off the inside kerb, slid up the track, and the resulting contact allowed Johnson to pass for the lead.

"I felt like I was a little bit better than the #11 on the long runs," the Hendrick man said, "I was able to stay with him and got closer and closer. I went into turn three and got inside of him. I think he was trying to not leave me a lot of room - which is what you do - and, before I knew it, I was up on the kerb and we had made contact and were sliding sideways.

"It certainly wasn't something intentional. I was just trying to get in there and get the win. I was in there, and he was coming down and we made some contact. Fortunately, neither one of us spun out, and he was able to recover and finish second."

Hamlin, who hasn't won a race since his victory at Martinsville a year ago, was gracious in his assessment of Johnson's move.

"It's short-track racing - that's all the fans could ask for right there," he said, "We tried to do our best to hold him off, but you fight for every inch around this racetrack, and he got the better of us today. If the roles were reversed, I'd do the same thing - and, believe me, I will if it ever comes back around."

For more than 400 laps, however, the race had been a two-man show that didn't involve Johnson. Team-mate Jeff Gordon led 141 of the first 155 laps before Hamlin powered inside off turn four on lap 156 and held the top spot for 187 laps until Gordon slipped back past on lap 343.

Six laps later, Hamlin regained the lead in traffic, before quick work in the pits under caution got Johnson out first for a restart on lap 434. He retained the top spot until Hamlin's dive to the inside on lap 456 - a move arranged with the help of team-mate Kyle Busch, who was the first lapped car on the inside lane when the field took the green flag.

Busch, whose own chances of success had evaporated following an early clash with Red Bull's Scott Speed, gave Hamlin just enough room to drive to the inside of Johnson as the cars raced toward the first corner. The FedEx Toyota then led for almost another 30 laps before the champion pounced decisively.

Gordon's threat faded slightly as the race went on, allowing owner-driver Tony Stewart to claim third, while Clint Bowyer. Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr, AJ Allmendinger and Jamie McMurray followed the polesitter and points leader home to round out the top ten.

Six of the top eight positions went to either the Hendrick cars of Johnson, Gordon, Martin and Earnhardt - the latter having run third mid-race - or Hendrick affiliates such as Stewart and Stewart-Haas team-mate Newman, as Chevrolet locked out all but three spots at the front of the field. The best Ford was McMurray's in tenth, one place behind the Dodge of the impressive Allmendinger.

Gordon, meanwhile, extended his points lead to 89 over second-place Bowyer, with 132 points now opening out to third-placed Kurt Busch, who joined his younger brother in the midfield at Martinsville as the family streak of three straight race wins ended with a whimper. Kurt started second but faded as the race progressed, finishing 18th, while a tyre problem cost Kyle two laps in the early stages, dropping him to 24th at the finish.

For the record, Geoff Bodine won the 1984 Sovran Bank 500 at Martinsville to claim the first Cup Series victory for Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson's victory on Sunday was Hendrick's 176th.

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service



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