Jimmie Johnson didn’t have the car to beat until late in the Goody’s 500 on Sunday, but that he emerged at the right time should have been no surprise.
After all, he is Mr. Martinsville.
Johnson nudged Denny Hamlin aside in the third and fourth turns with 15 laps to go at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, and gave team owner Rick Hendrick a perfect place to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his first victory in NASCAR’s premier series: Victory Lane.
Johnson and Hamlin had differing views of the pass that gave Johnson his fifth victory in the last six races on NASCAR’s smallest, trickiest track. Hamlin said it was a bump and standard short-track fare, while Johnson thought the video would change Hamlin’s opinion.
On the pass, Johnson caught Hamlin and got inside him on the backstretch on the 485th lap. From the outside, Hamlin tried to cut down in front of Johnson, bringing the contact.
Johnson gathered control and grabbed the lead, while Hamlin kept his car from hitting the wall and tried to give chase, but Johnson pulled away easily and coasted to the victory.
“If he wants to think that I tried moving him out of the way, he can believe that, but he should watch the video and see that I was inside of him,” Johnson said. “I did everything I could to miss him – climbed up on the curb – and he was still coming down.
“The only reason we touched and the only reason he ended up in the rubber where he couldn’t come back and get me was the fact that he chopped me,” he added. “I patiently worked to get that spot, to get the position inside of him, and he crowded me on the bottom.”
Hamlin said he bore no ill will, but will look forward to a chance to reciprocate.
“I would have done the same to him and if it comes back around, I will do the same thing.” he said. “It’s just the way it is. At Martinsville, you’ve got to battle for every inch.”
The victory was the 18th for Hendrick Motorsports at Martinsville, where a victory by Geoff Bodine 25 years ago gave the fledgling company a needed boost, and the 10th in the past 13 races. Johnson has won six of those, and Jeff Gordon has won the other four.
Johnson’s 41st career victory came after Gordon, who led 147 laps, and then Hamlin, who led 296, dominated for most of the race.
Hamlin finished second in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, followed by Tony Stewart, Gordon and Clint Bowyer. Ryan Newman was sixth with Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. next, giving Hendrick four of the top eight spots and Stewart-Haas Racing two.
Jenson Button won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne, giving Brawn GP a victory in its first Formula One race.
Button led from start to finish, beating teammate Rubens Barrichello and Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, with the race finishing under safety car conditions following a late accident.
Barrichello recovered after being slow off the line at the start, while Trulli performed impressively after starting from pit lane.
It was the first time since 1977 that a team had won its debut F1 race, and only the second win for Button in his 10th year of F1.
Ashley Force Hood raced to her second career victory on a record-setting day at the O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas, beating her former drag racing instructor in the finals at Houston Raceway Park.
The 26-year-old Hood beat Jack Beckman in the finals to vault from 10th to third in the Funny Car standings.
Tony Schumacher won his first race Top Fuel race of the season, Ron Krisher won the Pro Stock final and Craig Treble won in Pro Stock Motorcycle.