MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jimmie Johnson led a race-high 296 laps, but was unable to seal the deal Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. He held on to take second, with teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing behind him in third. This race marks the fifth consecutive race at Martinsville that the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Spring Is Calling Chevrolet SS has led for 100 or more laps.
Teammates Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne encountered issues during the race and ultimately finished 12th and 22nd, respectively.
Here’s a look at how the Hendrick Motorsports drivers fared at the paper-clip oval:
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 FARMERS INSURANCE CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Kasey Kahne opened Sunday's race at Martinsville from 27th and ran into slight trouble at the start of the 500-lap event. He hit pit road under caution on Lap 4, and the No. 5 team taped up the damaged nose of Kahne's No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS. Trouble seemed to find Kahne, who sustained contact entering pit road on Lap 45. However, Kahne persevered. He moved into the 24th position by Lap 64 and continued to maneuver his Chevy SS quickly through the field, posting a lap time equal to the leaders. When the caution flag was waved at Lap 102, Kahne had climbed to 16th. He continued his march to the front, moving into the 14th position by Lap 155. Kahne pitted under caution on Lap 172, taking four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. Unfortunately, a pit miscue on Lap 206 sent Kahne to the back of the field. Yet again, Kahne rallied and benefited from the free pass at Lap 231. By Lap 270, he was running 22nd. When the caution flag was waved at Lap 314, Kahne had made his way to the 13th position. He broke into the top 10 for the first time that day at Lap 327. Thirty-six laps later, Kahne was running inside the top five. As the race unfolded, Kahne’s tires began to wear and he fell to eighth by Lap 375. Kahne ultimately finished 22nd at Martinsville Speedway.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS:
RECAP: After qualifying fifth at Martinsville’s paper-clip oval, Jeff Gordon moved into the fourth position by Lap 11. He continued to make his way to the front, taking the third position by Lap 21 behind teammate Jimmie Johnson. After Johnson took the lead at Lap 21, Gordon moved into the runner-up position a lap later. Gordon picked up debris on his No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, but was able to retain the top-five position until Lap 45 when he hit pit road. Gordon told crew chief Alan Gustafson that his car was feeling very loose and he was forced to back off, running sixth by Lap 55. Gordon cracked the top five again by Lap 74 and was running fourth 19 laps later. The nose of Gordon’s Chevy SS was damaged by contact around the short track on Lap 114, and he slipped to 26th. Undaunted, Gordon began his march back to the front, moving up four positions by Lap 169. He stopped on pit road under caution on Lap 172, opting for fresh tires, fuel, adjustments and repairs to his damaged front end from the previous accident. By Lap 210, he was running 21st. He continued to navigate through heavy Martinsville traffic and was running 14th by Lap 269. Gordon lined up his car 15th for the restart with 32 laps to go. He climbed up three positions to finish in 12th at the paper-clip oval.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S SPRING IS CALLING CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Jimmie Johnson wasted no time at the short track, quickly moving into the runner-up position by Lap 2. He fell to third by Lap 14, but reclaimed his runner-up position by Lap 21, with teammate Jeff Gordon running right behind him. Seconds later, he took the lead. Johnson won the race off pit road when he made his first yellow-flag pit stop at Lap 45. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Spring Is Calling Chevrolet SS lined up first for the restart at Lap 45 and retained his lead for 11 laps. Johnson would follow this pattern for the majority of the race, leading 11 times for a race-high 296 laps and contributing to a new track record for lead changes (33). With 48 laps to go, Johnson ran into lap traffic and slid to second. The caution flag was waved at Lap 459 and Johnson made his way onto pit road for his last pit stop of the day. He won the race off pit road and lined up his Chevy SS in first position for the restart at Lap 466. After battling for the top position, Johnson reclaimed the lead by Lap 483. Johnson was unable to retain the lead and finished the race in second.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: After starting from the 26th position, Dale Earnhardt Jr. quickly jumped four positions and was running 22nd after the first restart on Lap 11. The driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet SS was running 17th by Lap 39. Earnhardt continued to work through the traffic, moving into the 15th position by Lap 75. By Lap 103, he was running 12th – a 14-position jump from the start of the race -- and was running eighth by Lap 127. He climbed two more positions, moving into the sixth spot by Lap 149. Earnhardt broke into the top five for the first time that day by Lap 170. He stopped on pit road under caution at Lap 173, taking four tires before lining up fifth for the restart. He moved into the fifth position by Lap 185, behind teammate Jimmie Johnson. By Lap 216, he was running sixth, before breaking into the top five again at Lap 218. Crew chief Steve Letarte opted to keep Earnhardt off pit road under caution at Lap 222. The gamble resulted in Earnhardt taking the top spot for the first time that day at Lap 224. He fell back to third by Lap 243 before pitting at Lap 250. Earnhardt would go on to lead three times for 25 laps while remaining inside the top 10. By Lap 372, Earnhardt was running sixth. He settled into the fifth position by Lap 422. Earnhardt made a yellow-flag pit stop at Lap 461 and moved into the fourth position by Lap 470 after the restart. Within 18 laps, he reclaimed third, which is where he finished. Earnhardt’s top-three result allowed him to reclaim the top spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.