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Jimmie Johnson wins Martinsville from pole; Gordon, Kahne in top four

Jimmie Johnson wins Martinsville from pole; Gordon, Kahne in top four

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Jimmie Johnson led a race-high 346 laps on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway to record his eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at the historic short track and move into first among active drivers there. With the victory, Johnson becomes the new points leader in the driver standings.

Johnson also moves into sole possession of third on the all-time win list at Martinsville, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and teammate Jeff Gordon, both of whom have seven wins apiece. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS now trails Hall of Famers Richard Petty (15 wins) and Darrell Waltrip (11) all-time at the .526-mile track.

Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne tried to narrow the gap on Johnson during the last 150 circuits, but ultimately crossed the finish line third and fourth, respectively. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who entered Sunday’s race as the Cup points leader, sustained damage throughout the race and crossed the finish line 24th.

Here is the race recap by team:

Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Fourth.
Standings: Fifth.
Recap: Kasey Kahne rolled off the grid fifth for Sunday’s Sprint Cup event at Martinsville and opted to pit during the first caution period for fuel and four tires. During the Lap 10 caution flag, Kahne also alerted crew chief Kenny Francis that he felt his No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS was hitting the curb during runs. Kahne restarted 27th on the Lap 22 restart and rocketed into the top eight within 28 laps, proving the benefit of new tires at the .526-mile oval. Kahne held steady in the top 10 with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates until Lap 151, when he reported a vibration to Francis. “I got a pretty good vibration under throttle,” Kahne said over the radio. “It’s like my rear tires; they’re off-balanced or something.” Kahne improved to run seventh, but Francis used the feedback to improve Kahne’s No. 5 Chevy under caution on Lap 172, when the No. 5 team put a right-rear rubber in. He continued his forward march and claimed the No. 2 spot on Lap 379. Kahne chased leader and teammate Jimmie Johnson for roughly 70 laps until Jeff Gordon passed him for the second spot. Within two circuits, the yellow flag was waved for a spin on the track, and Kahne stopped for an adjustment, fuel and four tires. He lined up fourth for the restart with 42 laps to go and found himself there again when the field reset for the Lap 492 restart. Kahne chased third-place Gordon as the laps wound down at Martinsville and crossed the finish line fourth.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Race finish: Third.
Standings: 12th.
Recap: Crew chief Alan Gustafson reminded Jeff Gordon to flip brake switches after the start of the race, and one the green flag waved, the driver of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS rolled off the grid in sixth. Despite an initial tight-handling condition, Gordon reported that the No. 24 Chevy became easier to drive during the green-flag runs. Gordon spent the majority of the day running inside the top 15 as his team attempted to help a tight-handling issue with the throttle. The condition appeared to be resolved on Lap 347 when a ninth-place Gordon was clocking some of the fastest laps on the track. Within 101 circuits, Gordon slipped by teammate Kasey Kahne and was chasing leader and teammate Jimmie Johnson. The driver of the No. 24 Chevy chased Johnson for two circuits, when his momentum was stalled by a caution flag. Gordon stopped with his teammates for a chassis adjustment, four tires and fuel and returned to the track to battle for his eighth victory at the .526-mile track. The red flag was waved with 13 laps left, and Gordon lined up fourth for the Lap 492 restart. He improved to third, chasing second-place Clint Bowyer and first-place Johnson as the laps ticked down. Ultimately, Gordon finished third, recording his first top-five result of the season.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS
Race finish: First.
Standings: First.
Recap: Jimmie Johnson opened Sunday’s race from the pole position – his first of the 2013 Sprint Cup season and the third of his career at Martinsville. The driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS won the pole with a track record lap of 19.244 seconds (roughly 98.400 mph) and appeared to have speed on his side entering Sunday’s 500-lap event. Within the first two circuits, Johnson was leading the field, and by Lap 61, he had recorded a personal milestone (14,000 career laps led). Johnson paid attention to the corners and his team continued to address minor handling issues on the No. 48 Chevy, as he tallied a race-high 336 laps led going into the final 11 circuits at Martinsville Speedway. Johnson lined up on the inside for the Lap 492 restart, just ahead of third-place Gordon and fifth-place Kasey Kahne. When the green flag waved, Johnson held his position and pushed by Clint Bowyer on the outside, cruising to his eighth career victory at Martinsville.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet SS
Race finish: 24th.
Standings: Third.
Race recap: Dale Earnhardt Jr. lined up 17th for Sunday’s race at Martinsville, and opted not to pit during a Lap 10 caution to help climb his way through the field. By Lap 26, the driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet SS had cracked the top 10 and was told by spotter T.J. Majors that he was “driving away.” Fifty laps into the race, Earnhardt improved another four spots and was running sixth before he made a pit stop under caution on Lap 72 for four tires, fuel and adjustments to alleviate a tight-handling condition. Back under green-flag racing, Earnhardt started slipping through the field and reported that the competition was just running a bit faster. Crew chief Steve Letarte immediately started planning adjustments for the next pit stop, which happened under caution on Lap 172. The No. 88 team addressed the tight-handling issue and attempted to improve the drive off, but before Earnhardt could really test the adjustments, he was impacted by an incident on the Lap 179 restart. Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy sustained damage to the left-rear, which the No. 88 team had to address subsequently on pit road. Competitors seemed drawn to Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy and he sustained significant impact from the No. 11 car with 128 laps to go and then received contact from the No. 10 with 35 circuits remaining. The No. 88 team patched up the Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet SS and Earnhardt held on to finish 24th.