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Johnson Gets His First Victory At Bristol

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 21 2010

Jimmie Johnson and his team celebrate their victory at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Jimmie Johnson’s war on career hurdles continued Sunday as he got his first-ever Sprint Cup victory at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The victory came on Johnson’s 17th attempt at the .533-mile bull ring. By normal standards, that is not a long time. By Johnson’s, it seemed like forever.

“Yes, it has been one of the most difficult for us,” Johnson said of scratching BMS off the list of tracks where he had not won. “It is so great to set some goals and go out and accomplish them as a race team. I am so proud of what we have done as a group. We’ve been off here (Bristol) over the years. We focused on what we needed to do and got it done today.”

The victory in the Food City 500 was the 50th of the four-time champion’s Cup career. It was his third victory of the season. It moves him ever closer to winning an unprecedented fifth consecutive series championship.

The victory moved Johnson into a tie for 10th place on the all-time win list with Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson.

Occupying top priority on Sunday, however, was that it was a victory Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team have  so dearly wanted.

“It was pretty high on his list,” Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief, said. “Jimmie and I write a little, you know, pre-season summary of what it is we want to try to accomplish for the upcoming season. Among other things, Bristol was pretty high on his list.

“For him to say that he wanted to focus on that and get better at this racetrack, for us to be able to go out there and do what we did, I think it speaks volumes about the dedication and desire he’s got inside.

“It’s not different at any other racetrack. We want to win every single event. This one has eluded us. We’re very proud to be able to have it.”

Tony Stewart was second and Penske Racing’s Kurt Busch, who led the most laps Sunday – 278 – was third.

Johnson grabbed the lead three laps after coming from sixth place on the final restart of the day; a restart which came with 10 laps to go.

He restarted sixth because he and Knaus opted to take four new tires on the stop while several others – including Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Stewart, who restarted first, second, third and fourth respectively – took just two.

“The four tires were everything,” Johnson said.

Busch, who had the lead ahead of Johnson heading into the pits the final time, also took four. He restarted fifth but got held up on the restart.

“These are tough to lose,” Busch said. “This is a track that I feel competitive on. We definitely had a car to beat today. We just ended up in the wrong lane for that last restart. We would have been better off if we had lost a spot on pit road and started up on the outside. It’s just the luck of the draw. We had it won, but we didn’t drive our car into victory lane. I poured my heart out, trying to beat the 48 and then to lose to them, that’s what is upsetting.”

Biffle finished fourth while  Roush Fenway Racing teammates Kenseth was fifth and Edwards sixth.

“I didn’t make the call, Greg Erwin did, but I think it was the right one,” Biffle said of taking two tires.  “Yeah, we could go back and do it over again with four and see what that does, but this U.S. Census Ford Fusion was really, really fast. I was just too loose. If I would have been like I was earlier, or if the car had been driving like it normally did, I think I could have held them off – I really do – but I was just so loose I couldn’t put the power down. The back end was sliding.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Johnson’s Hendrick teammate, was seventh.

Kenseth moved into the points lead with his finish. He holds a four-point lead over previous leader, Kevin Harvick.

Johnson moved to third in points and trails Kenseth by 18 points.

On about lap 342, a multi-car wreck ended victory hopes for a handful of drivers who had ran at or near the front of the field for most of the day.

One of those was Mark Martin. Martin was passing Biffle to the outside when Biffle moved up into him and forced him into the wall.

“I was a a lot faster” than Biffle, Martin said. “He came up. We had a car that I really thought could contend for the win. Mistakes happen but this is a bad deal for us.”

Biffle said his radio had become unplugged and he could not hear his spotter and that is what caused him to take out Martin.

“I owe an apology to Mark Martin,” Biffle said. “It sounds stupid because everybody makes an excuse, but I was having trouble with my radio. That whole run I didn’t have a radio and I didn’t know he was on the outside of me and I ran him into the fence. I feel bad, but I didn’t know he was there.”

Behind Biffle and Martin, the cars of Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose, Edwards, Juan Pablo Montoya and six others got caught up as they attempted to avoid the wreck. Only Martin’s, however, was seriously damaged.

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

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 21 2010
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