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Loudon recap: Martin wins, Johnson fourth

 

LOUDON, N.H. (Sept. 20, 2009)—Mark Martin extended his lead atop the championship standings by winning his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Martin, driver of the No. 5 CARQUEST/Kellogg’s Chevrolet, started 14th and went on to lead twice for 68 laps before securing his fifth Cup win of the season. With the victory, Martin now leads the standings in the Chase for the Sprint Cup by 35 points.

“Alan (Gustafson, crew chief) won that race—that’s all I got to say,” Martin said in Victory Lane. “He took a driver that can’t drive Loudon and put a set-up in it that we could run along reasonable.  Just like I said before the race, if they can stumble around and get me in the front then I might be able to stay there with it.  That’s what we did, but it was sure tough.”

Jimmie Johnson joined Martin in the top five with a fourth-place finish at Loudon. Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, started 16th and led 14 laps during the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“We were running strong all day long, and I’m glad we got a good top-five,” said Johnson, who improves to second in the championship standings. “Great start to the Chase—very happy with things.”
Jeff Gordon posted the highest qualifying spot of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates – 10th – and held steady there in his No. 24 DuPont/National Guard Yellow Ribbon Chevrolet. But restarts became a source of concern for Gordon.

“I was really happy with it (the car),” said Gordon, who finished 15th and now ranks 10th in the standings. “I was concerned about our restarts. The last time we fought that as well, being really loose on the restarts. If you’re on the front row, you can get away with it a little bit but being fifth or sixth we just really struggled with the grip on the restarts. We’d lose three or four spots every restart, and then we’d start not being able to gain it back. It just wasn’t a good day for us. It’s one we’ve just got to put behind us and go on.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was running third in his No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, when he was involved in an accident with less than 20 laps to go. Earnhardt, who climbed from his 23rd starting spot, clocked several top lap speeds and spent most of the day inside the top 10 until his mash-up with David Reutimann on Lap 283. Earnhardt finished 35th.

“It’s disappointing,” Earnhardt said afterward. “We had a good car. We run hard and worked hard all day long and we had the best car at certain times in the race. I felt like we had a top-three car. I hate it for my guys that worked real hard. We worked hard all day trying to get a good finish out of it.”

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