Jimmie Johnson’s expectations are high at Martinsville Speedway, and his results keep showing why.
The five-time series champion raced to his seventh career victory on NASCAR’s trickiest oval Sunday in Martinsville, Va., and the triumph helped him erase a seven-point deficit and supplant Brad Keselowski as the points leader with three events remaining.
But before handing Johnson the title, he cautioned, there’s plenty of racing yet to do.
“I’m ecstatic about the win today and ecstatic about the points lead, but this is no cake-walk,” Johnson said after the 59th victory of his career and fourth this season. “The next two races will tell the tale. Anything can happen. We could both wad it up next week and Clint Bowyer is your champion.”
Johnson moved two points ahead of Keselowski, who finished sixth for his highest career showing at the track. The series next moves to Texas and Phoenix before finishing up at Homestead-Miami.
Both drivers needed only to look at Denny Hamlin’s day to be reminded that things can go south fast. Hamlin seemed poised to get in the thick of it, and then had an electrical problem that sent him to a 33rd place finish and out of contention.
Keselowski’s day was nowhere near as adventurous as Hamlin’s, but effective all the same.
He started 32nd, methodically worked his way forward, and was never really a factor until he took a late gamble to grab the lead – and a crucial bonus point. He was leading the race briefly when a caution flag flew and he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. opted to stay out, then watched as the other 16 lead-lap cars all headed for pit road for fresh tires.
“I think we’ve learned a lesson here in the past not pitting late, and that certainly came into play,” Johnson said. “I felt like it was going to be a problem for him. We’ve been there before and stayed out and got beat.”
When the race went back to green with 19 laps to go, Keselowski was a sitting duck.
Johnson, who led eight times for 193 laps, passed him on lap 487 on his way to making the race a bonus points bonanza. He got one for leading a lap, one for leading the most laps and three for the victory, wiping out a seven-point deficit.
Busch was second, followed by Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, Bowyer, Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers.
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel won the Indian Grand Prix in Greater Noida, India, to extend his Formula One championship lead, though rival Fernando Alonso of Ferrari kept up the pressure with a second-place finish.
Vettel won a fourth straight race for the first time in his career and now leads the drivers’ championship by 13 points with three races to go, chasing a third successive F1 title.
Ron Capps raced to his fifth Funny Car victory of the season, winning the Big O Tires NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas to cut Jack Beckman’s series lead to four points with one race remaining.
Bob Vandergriff Jr. won in Top Fuel, Allen Johnson in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.