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Johnson, Gordon Cement Top-10s at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (April 18, 2004) – With possibly the two best cars on the race track, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon each came away with top-10 finishes at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, started eighth and locked down his fourth top-five result in eight races this season with a fourth-place showing at the .526-mile oval.

With one victory and five top-10 performances, Johnson is now fourth in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings, up two positions from last week.  He is just 79 points back of new leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.

After starting from the pole position, Gordon led more laps than any other driver on Sunday with arguably the most competitive car in the field.

Unfortunately, a strange set of circumstances kept the No. 24 DuPont team from making their third consecutive trip to Victory Lane at Martinsville.

Running second on Lap 290, Gordon’s No. 24 Chevy encountered a piece of concrete that had dislodged from the racing surface.  The impact caused enough damage to force the team to pit road for repairs and sent Gordon to the rear of the lead-lap cars.

The incident forced a major delay as facility officials repaired the large “pot hole” in Turn 3.  It was more than an hour before racing resumed.

“It’s very unfortunate that the race track came apart,” Gordon said.  “It definitely took any chance we had of winning away.

“Our day would have had to gone absolutely perfect to get back up there.”

Even with the setback, Gordon managed to navigate his way back into the top 10, salvaging a sixth-place finish.

“It was a decent comeback,” said a disappointed Gordon following the race.

The four-time Cup Series champion moved up two positions to seventh in points, just 116 behind Earnhardt.

Brian Vickers was the top-finishing Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate at Martinsville, posting a 13th-place result after qualifying 35th in the No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Monte Carlo.

“This is a tough track and I love it,” Vickers said of Martinsville.  “I wish we had more of these tracks.  These are the kind of tracks that I grew up racing on.

“I enjoyed it and had a good time today.”

Vickers, 20, moved up two positions to 24th in the NEXTEL Cup standings, one spot behind teammate Terry Labonte.  He is less than 50 points out of the top 20.

Driving the No. 5 Kellogg’s Chevy, Labonte started 28th and finished 23rd at Martinsville, partially thanks to a flat tire early in the event that put him laps down to the leaders.

The two-time champion remained 23rd in the standings.

Rusty Wallace went to Victory Lane at Martinsville, winning his first race in nearly three years.

From the shortest track on the schedule to the longest, NEXTEL Cup teams will next travel to the 2.66-mile Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.  The event will be broadcast live by FOX (1 p.m. ET) and MRN Radio (12:30 p.m. ET).

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