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Hamlin Wins Race But Johnson Makes His Points

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 25 2009
Denny Hamlin sends his team to the showers after winning the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Denny Hamlin sends his team to the showers after winning the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Last spring, Jimmie Johnson got the victory at Martinsville Speedway by punting leader Denny Hamlin from behind with just a handful of laps to go. Sunday at Martinsville, Hamlin found a fool-proof method for preventing a replay of that.

Hamlin simply would not allow Johnson to get close enough to his rear bumper to do it. On restart after restart late in Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville, Hamlin sped off at first sight of the green flag and left nothing for second-place Johnson to punt at but thin air.

As a result, Hamlin got his third victory of the season and his first of the 2009 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

“Jimmie obviously gave us a lot of respect there toward the end,” Hamlin said. “He knew that we had a faster car and tried to protect his points lead. It was a good situation we were in.”

Unfortunately, the situation was not great overall. The victory came too late to do Hamlin any good in the pursuit of his first championship, but at least it allowed him to put on a very respectable smoke-show burnout for his home-state fans.

Johnson kept his tires in tact after the race but his second-place finish probably warranted some type of celebration as it allowed him to pad his already-substantial lead in the Chase, which is now down to its final four events.

By finishing second, Johnson increased his lead from 90 to 118 points over second-place Mark Martin, who is also his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. Martin finished eighth at Martinsville. A low-key eighth.

“We need to pick it up,” Martin said. “You know, eighths, sevenths, that won’t get it right now. But you know what; we gave it everything we had.”

Third in points is a third Hendrick driver, Jeff Gordon. Gordon, fifth on Sunday, is now 150 behind Johnson.

So, Johnson was asked after the race, pretty comfortable with the points lead, are you?

Bad question to ask.

“I’m so tired of answering this question,” Johnson said. “I think you guys can all figure it out. Talladega (next week), there’s no telling, and I feel good with the other tracks after that as long as we don’t have any mechanicals.”

Fourth in points and 196 back, is Tony Stewart, who was 10th on Sunday.

Juan Pablo Montoya finished third at Martinsville. He is fifth in points, 200 behind leader Johnson.

Montoya, who led  a large portion of Sunday’s race, had no problem assessing his situation – and Johnson’s.

“I’m too far,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. You’ve got to say the 48 team is doing an amazing job and they deserve everything they’re doing right now.  Do we want to beat them? Yeah, we want to beat them.

“But it’s not over. You’ve got to be honest. You go to Talladega and he might have a bad race, or even the race after.  He might blow a motor, have a bad pit stop. There’s still a lot of racing to go, so anything can happen. We’ve just got to keep running hard and hope for the best.”

Hamlin certainly decided to run hard on Sunday at Martinsville. He led three times for a race-best 206 laps.

But as hard as he did run, his victory was never really assured. Not at Martinsville.

Over the final 20 laps, Hamlin had to survive three restarts. On each of the restarts, it was Johnson who was right behind him. The final one of those was of the green-white-checkered variety.

But each time, Hamlin got the jump and Johnson’s chances of catching – and perhaps punting – Hamlin never materialized.

“I had one chance,” Johnson said. “He caught the curb with about 40 to go and lost some drive off of 2, and I got inside of him, and I thought, man, I’ve seen this movie before. I got inside of him and he came to block the position like he did in the spring, and I thought, man, I didn’t try to hit him last time here, and that time he was coming again.

“I wasn’t in there far enough to stay in there like I did in the spring, so I backed out of it, and I think I actually hit the curb and screwed up my line and all that kind of thing. That was my one chance.

“After that I could match his laps, but he would just start inching away from me and had the best car there at the end. If I had a chance to pass him and to get to his bumper and work him over, I would have. But I wasn’t just going to come in with the second-place car and take a cheap shot and pass him that way. If I felt like if I had a car to win the race, I would have been up there leaning on him some.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 25 2009
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