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Johnson claims win at Martinsville

Caption
(Jared C. Tilton)
Jimmie Johnson (48) and Marcos Ambrose (9) lead the field past the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP Gas Booster 500 on April 7, 2013, at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia. (AP Photo/Jared C. Tilton, Pool)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jimmie Johnson dominated Martinsville Speedway again.

Johnson led a career-best 346 laps Sunday and pulled away on a restart with eight laps to go for his eighth career victory at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday.

“It was just a long, fought day,” Johnson said after climbing from his car in Victory Lane. “Martinsville, it stays the same over the years and you just have to dig in and get your own rhythm. Fortunately, the fastest car won the race.”

The victory moved Johnson into third place in career victories on the shortest track in the Sprint Cup Series, trailing only Richard Petty, who won here 15 times, and Darrell Waltrip, who won 11 times.

It also made team owner Rick Hendrick’s organization the winningest team in Martinsville history with 20, breaking a tie it had with the Petty organization.

“I think the last stop or two, we really got our car adjusted right,” Johnson said.

The five-time series champion picked the inside line for the final restart with Clint Bowyer on the outside, teammate Jeff Gordon behind him and Kyle Busch to his outside, and Johnson got a clean break for the lead into Turn 1.

Bowyer slid into second and Busch, who tried to make a move on the outside line, instead got hung up out there as Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne, who restarted fifth, went underneath to take fourth.

Nothing changed the rest of the way and the top five finished in those positions.

Gordon, who was tied with Johnson and Rusty Wallace with seven victories on the 0.526-mile oval, said he knew it would be a tough day when Johnson won the pole for the second straight race because of the pit road advantage.

While Johnson dominated, there were times it looked as if the race might go in another direction.

Matt Kenseth, who has struggled at Martinsville throughout his career, actually passed Johnson for the lead and led for 96 laps.

Mark Martin, driving for the injured Denny Hamlin and equally disdainful of the smallest, trickiest track in the series, moved into fourth place after taking a chance and getting just two tires on a pit stop, but then faded quickly.

Danica Patrick, whose boss, Tony Stewart, said last week he thought it would be funny to watch her try to navigate her way around the track, got passed by his rookie driver with 19 laps to go. Patrick finished 12, Stewart 17th.

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