ThatsRacin

NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson wins at Martinsville, clinches spot in Chase championship round

Jimmie Johnson celebrates winning Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson celebrates winning Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. AP

Jimmie Johnson clinched a spot in the NASCAR’s Chase championship round Sunday, winning the Goody’s 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Johnson’s victory means his pursuit of a seventh NASCAR championship – which would tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt – continues. It was Johnson’s ninth career victory at Martinsville.

Johnson finished ahead of fast-closing Brad Keselowski, who was eliminated from the Chase last week at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Three other Chase drivers, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, finished third, fourth and fifth respectively.

It wasn’t an ideal day for the remainder of the eight-driver Chase field. Joey Logano was ninth, Kevin Harvick 20th, Kurt Busch 22nd and Carl Edwards 36th.

The Chase semifinals will continue next week at Texas Motor Speedway before moving on to Phoenix International Raceway. The championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be Nov. 20.

Turning point

After a 25-minute, 29-lap caution period during which NASCAR had to sort out a confusing scoring situation, Johnson took the lead on Lap 409 and led the rest of the way.

Chase update

How the NASCAR Chase drivers fared:

1. Jimmie Johnson (4,044 points): His drive for seven titles is alive after a convincing victory – the ninth of his career at Martinsville.

2. Denny Hamlin (five behind): Penalized for speeding on pit road early in the race and sent to the rear of the field. His car also suffered minor damage when it fell off a jack before the race. Still, he finished third.

3. Matt Kenseth (five behind): Finished fourth after leading 48 laps, part of a 3-4-5 finish by Joe Gibbs Racing drivers.

4. Kyle Busch (seven behind): Fifth-place finish allows 2015 champion to be in the top four heading to Texas, the second race of the Chase semifinals.

5. Joey Logano (four points out of fourth place): Finished ninth, but said he thought he had a top-five car.

6. Kevin Harvick (16 out of fourth): Penalized for speeding on pit road early in the race and was sent to the rear of the field. Was never really in contention and finished 20th.

7. Kurt Busch (18 out of fourth): Part of a bad day for Stewart-Haas Racing (along with Harvick), finishing 22nd.

8. Carl Edwards (32 out of fourth): Penalized for speeding on pit road early and was sent to the rear of the field. Then he hit the wall after a tire went down and finished 36th.

Observations

▪ Martin Truex Jr., who is out of Chase contention, led 147 laps. His Furniture Row team has a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, and Truex appeared to let JGR drivers Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch take brief leads (and garner bonus points) while he was up front.

▪ IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud attended the race and said he wouldn’t mind giving NASCAR a try. Pagenaud drives for Mooresville-based Team Penske.

▪ The green flag to start the race was flown by the King and 15-time Martinsville winner, Richard Petty.

▪ In what might have been his final race, Jeff Gordon finished sixth in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car. Gordon, who retired after last season, has been filling in for Earnhardt, who is out for the season with a concussion. Alex Bowman will drive for Earnhardt over the final three races of the season. Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said after the race that Gordon would continue to be his first choice as a replacement driver if needed again.

▪ A golf cart in which Hamlin was riding was hit by a large truck before the race. Hamlin, who was on the way to a sponsorship appearance, jumped off the cart before the collision and was unhurt, as were the other people involved.

They said it

“It’s crazy that we’ll have a shot at seven (championships).” – Johnson.

N@SCAR

Tweets from Sunday’s race:

Next race

AAA Texas 500

Where: Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth.

When: 2 p.m., Sunday.

TV: NBC.

Radio: Performance Racing Network.

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