John­son wins at Martinsville, gains chance for sev­enth ti­tle

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

Ste­fon Diggs (Mary­land) and the Vik­ings will play the Bears tonight

MARTINSVILLE, VA. — A slot in NASCAR’s record books is within reach for Jim­mie John­son.

John­son earned one of four spots in next month’s ti­tle-de­cid­ing sea­son fi­nale Sun­day with a win in the Goody’s Fast Re­lief 500, his ninth ca­reer vic­tory at Martinsville Speed­way. The six­time NASCAR cham­pion will race for his sev­enth cham­pi­onship, which would tie him for the record with Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earn­hardt Jr.

“I’ve been try­ing to ig­nore this con­ver­sa­tion about seven, and now I can’t,” John­son said. “I’ll prob­a­bly lie to all of you guys and say I’m not go­ing to think about it at all. But it’s in­evitable. For­tu­nately, I don’t have to think about it for three weeks. But we’re go­ing to en­joy this and sa­vor it. We’re go­ing to get our ducks in a row for Home­stead.”

The vic­tory blocked Joe Gibbs Rac­ing from plac­ing all four of its Toy­ota drivers in the fi­nal round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup ti­tle. There are only three spots open in the fi­nale at Home­stead-Mi­ami Speed­way on Nov. 20, and JGR’s hope of sweep­ing the fi­nal four ended Sun­day.

Most likely to miss the fi­nal is Carl Ed­wards, who had a tire prob­lem and fin­ished 36th, low­est of the eight Chase drivers. Also in trou­ble: Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing team­mates Kevin Har­vick and Kurt Busch, who fin­ished 20th and 22nd.

Brad Ke­selowski, elim­i­nated from the Chase last week, fin­ished sec­ond and was ir­ri­tated by a lengthy cau­tion ear­lier in the race when NASCAR strug­gled Texas Mo­tor Speed­way, Fort Worth Sun­day, 2 p.m. TV: Chs. 11, 4 to fig­ure out the run­ning or­der. Had those laps not been wasted un­der yel­low, Ke­selowski be­lieved he could have beaten John­son.

“We don’t need to run 100 laps un­der yel­low with the field, not try­ing to fig­ure out where they’re at, and it prob­a­bly cost us the race,” Ke­selowski said.

The cau­tion took 29 laps, and left some grum­bling the or­der still wasn’t cor­rect when the race restarted.

“I think the stakes are so high, I re­ally wish we would have red-flagged the race, gone, re­viewed it and got­ten it right,” said third­place fin­isher Denny Ham­lin. “There’s a 100 per­cent chance it was not right at the end. It changed the run­ning or­der.

“Hope­fully, that doesn’t change what hap­pens go­ing into Home­stead. I know that NASCAR is do­ing ev­ery­thing they can with the scor­ing they have and things like that. But you have to get it right. It def­i­nitely was not right.”

JGR fin­ished third, fourth and fifth as Ham­lin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch are in­side the top­four as the se­ries heads to Texas Mo­tor Speed­way. But all was not well in the Gibbs camp af­ter the race.

Busch felt Ham­lin fin­ished the high­est by hold­ing up Kenseth and Busch in the wan­ing laps. Although the team­mates worked well to­gether on restarts, Busch felt that Ham­lin’s not get­ting out of the way al­lowed John­son to win and Ke­selowski to fin- ish sec­ond.

“We work so good to­gether that we just gave the win to [John­son]. So, JGR all the way,” Busch said. “At the end, you had the slow­est Gibbs car hold­ing up the rest of the line, and all we did was let some­body else from an­other or­ga­ni­za­tion pass us and go up there and chase down [John­son].”

Ham­lin dis­puted Busch’s view.

“I may have held those guys up for a lit­tle bit of that fi­nal run, but def­i­nitely don’t think I was hold­ing any­one up at the end, for sure,” Ham­lin said.

Jeff Gor­don fin­ished sixth in his fi­nal sched­uled race as the re­place­ment driver for Dale Earn­hardt Jr. It is pre­sum­ably the fi­nal race of Gor­don’s ca­reer. He re­tired last sea­son, but was pressed into eight races when Earn­hardt suf­fered a con­cus­sion.

It was an un­usu­ally fast race by Martinsville stan­dards, and the five cau­tions were the fewest since April 1989.

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