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Richmond recap: Martin, Gordon and Johnson locked into Chase

RICHMOND, Va. (Sept. 12, 2009)—Mark Martin joined his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by finishing fourth at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night.

Martin, who ranked 10th going into Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, needed to finish 12th or better during the 400-lap event. Thanks to his four Cup wins this season, the driver of the No. 5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet will start the Chase ranked first among the 12 competitors.

“I feel like a whole new person, huge weight off my shoulders,” said Martin, who started Sunday’s race from the pole position. “It was really good to be in the top-five all night. I don’t think we ever got further back than fifth. Great pit stop, and just everything was good. We had the best pit stall, a great race car, not quite good enough to win with but we could see the leaders all night. The guys just did what we needed to do. We needed to finish how we ran and the last two weeks we’ve done that. So now we go racing. Pressure is off though. Pressure is off. It won’t build back up until late—maybe four to go or something. Right now the pressure is off.”

Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Wounded Warrior Chevrolet, finished third during Saturday’s event. He scored one win this season and opens the Chase ranked sixth.

“We were fighting hard for those 10 bonus points because we knew once we were seeded we were going to be behind,” Gordon said. “What a strong effort by this DuPont/National Guard Wounded Warrior Chevrolet. It was a great effort. Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and the guys just brought a great race car tonight. The best one I’ve had here in a long time so I’m excited. The momentum going into New Hampshire is there. The team was solid, and I think we have a great shot at it. I know we’ve got some points to make up but I think this team is really capable and ready to do that. ”

Johnson, the defending three-time Cup champion, started Saturday’s Chevy Rock & Roll in fourth and finished 11th. With three Cup wins this season under his belt, he enters the Chase ranked third.

“I felt like we had a better shot tonight than where we finished,” Johnson said. “We started out decent, and then just started getting really, really loose on the longer runs. We still salvaged a decent finish out of it. Had a decent night so all in all it’s good. I really wanted to get 10 more points and give all the Lowe’s employee/owners something to cheer for, but we’ll have to save that for the Chase and get to work.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, started 15th and finished 21st during the short track event.