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Johnson wins at Martinsville on special day for Hendrick Motorsports

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (March 29, 2009) – Team owner Rick Hendrick spent the morning of Sunday’s 500-lap NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Martinsville Speedway reminiscing about the 25th anniversary of his organization’s first win.

It was April 29, 1984, when Geoff Bodine drove the No. 5 Chevrolet to Victory Lane at Martinsville for Hendrick’s fledgling race team. The win earned Hendrick a sponsor for the season and helped breathe life into an organization that now owns 12 NASCAR championships.

On Sunday, Hendrick Motorsports concluded its 25th anniversary celebration at Martinsville by picking up its 176th Cup win.

Jimmie Johnson drove his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet to Victory Lane, and all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers posted top-10 finishes. This marks the third straight time in which all four Hendrick drivers have finished in the top-10 at the short track.

“It means a lot to win here 25 years after the first victory for Rick Hendrick and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports,” said Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. “Hopefully it’s only the first of the year.”

Johnson started the race in ninth and collaborated early with Knaus on changes that needed to be made to his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet. The tweaks demanded an extra pit stop, and Johnson went from running in the top five to the top 20 within the first 100 laps.

But the changes made all the difference, and Johnson immediately plowed through the field. Eventually, the three-time defending Cup champion cracked into the top 10 to join his teammates Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who spent most of the day running there.

Johnson kept climbing, and with 70 laps to go, he seized the lead from frontrunner Denny Hamlin. The duo battled for the position, beating and banging all the way around the paperclip oval and trading spots twice. Johnson nudged Hamlin one last time with five laps to go and slipped by his No. 11 to take the lead for good.

“I just took my time,” Johnson said. “I felt like I was a little bit better than the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) on the long haul, and I was able to stay with him and get closer and closer. I went into Turn 3 and got inside of him and just starting racing. I think he was trying to not leave me a lot of room, which is what you do. Before I knew it, I was up on the curve, and we made contact and sliding sideways. It certainly wasn’t something intentional. I was just trying to get in there and get the win.

“Thankfully nobody was right on us so that we could recover and get going and carry on,” he added. “That was a slide for a really long time and I’m glad that both cars stayed straight.”

Johnson crossed the finish line .774 seconds ahead of Hamlin and was followed by his teammates.

Gordon kept his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet in the top five for the majority of the race and led four times for 147 laps.  The points leader finished fourth after starting from the pole position. Gordon said after the race that the track collected tire rubber during the race and that made his car a bit too tight.

“The track changed quite a bit,” Gordon said. “That’s what we were afraid of. We were so good in practice on Friday that it seemed like the tires were going loose. The set up that we went to was just so strong in practice that it was hard to get away from it.”

Martin and Earnhardt also climbed in the driver standings thanks to their solid top-10 runs. Martin, who started 31st and drove his No. 5 Kellogg’s /CARQUEST Chevrolet to a seventh-place finish, improving four spots to take 27th in the standings.

Earnhardt started 19th and broke into the top 10 within the first 125 laps. Despite a handling issue with his No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, Earnhardt kept his focus on earning points and scored an eight-place finish—his second top-10 of the season.

“That is what we are looking at right now,” said Earnhardt, who improves three spots to 16th in the standings. “It seems like every race we go to, we are about five spots off of where we were last year, and I don’t know why that is and it very frustrating. But we are working hard.”

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