Jimmie Johnson drove a strong race in Martinsville to secure his second win of 2013 at the STP Gas Booster 500.
The #48 Chevrolet SS led 346 of the 500 laps around ‘The Paperclip’ in a race that was littered with cautions, with 85 laps taking place under yellow flag conditions.
“We had a great weekend and the stats clearly show that.” said the five-time Sprint Cup Champion. “But probably the most calm, relaxed thought-out weekend that we’ve had as the 48, and mature weekend we’ve had. We really fell back on our experience and stayed committed to that. This track can play some games with you, and there were times where we could put up a fast lap but we didn’t have what we thought– it wouldn’t look competitive compared to other guys on track and guys adjusting their cars to the current conditions. We stuck to our game plan and knew what we wanted to have in the race and stayed patient, and it was tough to do at times, but it certainly worked out well.
“In the race, we had to adjust on the fly.” he continued. “The track changed more than we thought it would, and Chad [Knaus, crew chief] put some great changes under the car. It’s kind of the time when the 18 and the 20 got to us, and we were able to get our car dialed in. I’m not sure where they went following that, but and the 15 and 24 showed up and I still had my hands full.”
Johnson started the race from pole position, but did not earn the first point for leading a lap. Marcos Ambrose got the jump on Johnson at the first drop of the green flag, crossing the start line in the lead at the end of Lap 1. Ambrose’s hold on the lead was incredibly short lived, however, with Johnson taking the position one lap later.
The first caution of the day came on lap 16 as Danica Patrick was spun out by Kenny Schrader. The top six chose to stay out as around half the field decided to pit under the early caution.
As green flag racing returned, Jeff Gordon moves up to third, while Marcos Ambrose, who was holding second, began to slip back down the field. Jeff Gordon continued his move to the top end of the field as he passed Brian Vickers for second place and set his sights on team-mate and leader Jimmie Johnson.
The second caution of the race flew on lap 70 as Scott Speed pulled up on the apron of the front straight. All 28 of the lead lap drivers dived down pit road for yellow flag pit stops, with the race off pit road being won by Johnson. Jamie McMurray was the biggest mover made on pit road, gaining three positions, moving up to third.
Lap 90 saw Kyle Busch take the lead from Johnson, only for the five-time Sprint Cup champion to retake the lead on lap 103. Busch dropped back down to third on lap 118 as Jeff Gordon returned to second position.
68 laps of green flag racing followed before debris brought out the third caution of the day. All the leaders came down pit road once again, however no major positional changes took place. The restart came on lap 179, but green flag racing lasted less than a lap.
The fourth caution came as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. checked up, causing a group of cars to run into each other, before Clint Bowyer was spun round on the front straight, almost blocking the entire track. The cars escaping damage from the wreck decided not to pit, having pitted on the previous caution period.
Jimmie Johnson’s lead was eventually lost as Matt Kenseth, searching for his first Martinsville win, passed the #48 car on lap 224. Racing came to halt for the fifth time on lap 240, however, as David Reutimann spun his #83 Toyota Camry out, following a little help from Regan Smith.
The race off pit road saw Kenseth hold his lead, while Johnson was the biggest loser, losing four positions in the pits. Mark Martin, driving the #11 car in place of the injured Denny Hamlin, had gained positions in the pits after changing two tyres, but the advantage didn’t last long as he began to plummet down the field.
Carl Edwards then found himself pirouetting out of four, bringing out the sixth caution of the afternoon. The spin was caused by contact with Marcos Ambrose which resulted in a cut left rear tyre. Martin’s day went from bad to worse as he came in to the pits, attempting to drive away when the left front tyre had not been secured properly.
As the race restarted, it all went wrong for Kurt Busch as he cut his left-front tyre trying to battle three-wide. Rather than pit to change the tyre, Busch tried to stay out and draw the caution, to no avail. Kurt’s brother Kyle, however, had better fortunes off the restart, moving past Matt Kenseth to take the lead.
The seventh caution of the day came out on lap 279 as Martin Truex, Jr. spun his #56 Toyota at turn three. Once again the leaders took the opportunity to come down pit road, with Busch retaining his lead in the race off pit road.
The race went green again on lap 287, with Keselowski and Kenseth exchanging paint in turn 1, allowing Johnson to slip up into second position. Green flag racing only last six laps, though, as Kurt Busch was spun out at turn three by David Gilliland, bringing out the eighth caution of the day. Only a handful of drivers chose to pit under caution, notably Jeff Gordon, who had dropped out of the top ten after over shooting his pit stall on his previous stop. The green flag returned with 202 laps to go as Kyle Busch kept his lead, followed by Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski.
Matt Kenseth took the lead from Busch with 191 laps to go, who two turns later found himself dropping to third, as he was passed by Jimmie Johnson. The battle for the lead really started to heat up forty laps later, as Johnson found himself on the back bumper of Kenseth thanks to lapped traffic.
Ryan Newman brought the ninth caution of the day having stopped on track after a cut tyre. NASCAR deemed Newman’s actions a deliberate act to bring out the caution, and was subsequently held on pit road for three laps. Jimmie Johnson won the race off pit road, regaining the lead from Matt Kenseth. Johnson held his lead at the restart, followed by Kenseth and Kasey Kahne.
The tenth caution of the day came with just 52 laps remaining, as Brian Vickers cut a left rear tyre and was sent spinning on the exit of turn 2. The timing of the caution could not have been worse for Jeff Gordon, as he had worked his way up into second position in a car better at long runs, and was zeroing in on team-mate Johnson. The leaders came down pit road, but there were no major position changes.
Only nine laps of green flag racing followed the restart, as an incident between Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Danica Patrick at turn four brought out the 11th caution period of the race. The caution period lasted for six laps with none of the leaders opting to make a pit stop, meaning Johnson kept his lead as they came back to the green flag.
Lap 487 saw a massive accident for Kurt Busch in the #78 at turn 1 bring out the twelfth, and final, caution of the day. Busch’s car came to a half at the end of the front straight with flames billowing out of the engine bay. The built-in fire extinguisher went off immediately and Busch got out of the car and gave the thumbs up to the safety crews as the caution flag turned to a red flag.
The race restarted with an eight lap sprint to decide the finishing positions. Johnson got the jump from the green flag and never looked back as he led home Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon.
Johnson leaves Martinsville with a six point lead in the Sprint Cup standings over reigning champion Brad Keselowski and a further six points back to Earnhardt, Jr.