NASCAR & Auto Racing

Race rewind | What's the key to the 48 team's Martinsville mastery?

Rewinding and re-examining Sunday's race at the venerable Martinsville (Va.) Speedway:

CHASER BASICS

No. 1 Jimmie Johnson (leader)

Johnson joked that he hasn't always loved Martinsville Speedway, where he's now won four of the past five races. He said after Sunday's Tums 500 that at first he was hoping "someone could redirect a missile toward this place" to blow it up.

Johnson finished 35th the first time he raced here in April 2002. Since then, he has finished no worse than ninth.

"I have no clue," Johnson said of why he has such a feel for this track. "My first year here ...I just felt lost. But I typically do better running at quirky tracks that take some technique. ...Maybe that comes from my off-road background."

No. 2 Greg Biffle (-149)

One thing Biffle hopes to be able to bring back to Martinsville on a return visit is the new brakes his team utilized on Sunday.

"These are the best brakes I've ever had in my life and, I'm telling you, I abused the heck out of them when I had to and they just stayed with me the whole time," he said.

No. 3 Jeff Burton (-152)

Burton remained keenly aware of the right-front tire problems several drivers experienced Sunday while overusing their brakes.

"There was a time when I just didn't push it as hard as I wanted to because I saw right-fronts going down and I thought that could be brake heat," he said. "We just needed to run better."

No. 4 Carl Edwards (-198)

Edwards took a shot at summing up how it felt to run competitively all day only to see Johnson run away with another Martinsville victory: "You think, 'Damn, those guys are good.' They're just good at what they do," he said.

No. 5 Clint Bowyer (-242)

Bowyer managed a ninth-place finish despite battling the handling on his No. 07 Chevrolet all day.

"We fought tight all day," Bowyer said. "No matter what Gil (crew chief Gil Martin) and the guys did on pit road, we just couldn't get the car to turn getting off the corner. ...Still, it was a pretty good day."

No. 6 Kevin Harvick (-256)

Harvick, Bowyer's teammate, had the opposite problem and battled a loose car all day on his way to a seventh-place finish.

"We were never really able to get track position to compete with the leaders," Harvick said. "Todd (crew chief Todd Berrier) made some really good adjustments on the last pit stop and we were able to grab a few spots in the final 50 laps."

No. 7 Jeff Gordon (-275)

Gordon said his team decided to try to make its No. 24 Chevrolet better on shorter runs, thinking that might work out better.

"We went a little risky on our setup here," said Gordon, who finished fourth. "We really wanted to get the most out of this day. ...We've got a little work to do on the long runs with this setup."

All four Hendrick Motorsports cars finished in the top six on Sunday. Casey Mears barely missed a top five, battling Denny Hamlin on the last lap for the position.

No. 8 Tony Stewart (-338)

Stewart appeared to have a car capable of contending, but twice in the second half of the race he blew right-front tires, likely due to brake heat. He ended up four laps down.

No. 9 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-379)

Earnhardt Jr. put in one of his most patient and consistent performances of the season and it produced a strong result in a second-place finish. He couldn't get close enough to Johnson to take a shot at the win, but was pleased with his effort.

"You have to run so hard here every lap, and to get what you want, to get the finish you want, you can't really take any time off or pace yourself any," he said.

No. 10 Matt Kenseth (-408)

Kenseth was involved in an early race accident and fell a lap down but eventually battled back for an eighth-place finish.

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (-420)

Hamlin was the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver not to experience blown right-front tires on Sunday and he was rewarded with a fifth-place finish, his best in the past six races.

No. 12 Kyle Busch (-445)

Another frustrating day for Busch, who was also experienced a blown right-front tire, likely due to brake heat, and fell out of contention early.

REAR-VIEW MIRROR/DAVID POOLE

It isn't over till ...

Is the Chase for the Sprint Cup over? No. Jimmie Johnson could blow a motor on the first lap at Atlanta or at Texas and bring three or four guys right back into it.

But is there any sign the two-time defending champion's team is going to let something like that happen?

No sir.

'Confidence' doesn't do it justice

You want to know one big reason Johnson and his team frequently beat everybody else’s brains out at Martinsville? They expect to.

They come here planning to try to win the pole to get the No. 1 pit stall so they can have the best shot at winning the race. Then they set themselves on "kill" when the race starts.

Some other teams - good teams - come to Martinsville and admit they're "hoping" to finish in the top 10 or just get out of here without losing a lot of points.

Which of those attitudes do you think is more conducive to producing championships?

Here's a word that might fit: 'Impressive'

Johnson and Jeff Gordon have both finished in the top 10 in every Martinsville race since the fall of 2002. That's 12 straight races each, and of those 24 finishes nine have been victories and 20 have been top fives.

KEY MOMENTS

Friday afternoon

Rain cancels qualifying and leaves Jimmie Johnson with the No. 1 starting spot and the No. 1 stall on pit road. Make no mistake, getting that spot on pit road can be a highly significant factor in finishing well here, too.

Lap 170

Greg Biffle takes the green flag as the race leader after staying out to gain track position. But when the race stays green, Biffle has to stop on Lap 249. A yellow comes out before the other leaders stop, and Biffle winds up being trapped a lap down.

Lap 458

Reed Sorenson's Dodge spins out in turns 1 and 2 and comes to rest against the outside wall. That ends a long run on which Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been chasing and closing in on the leader, Johnson.

Lap 460

Jeff Burton is blocked as he tries to get into his pit stall, and when he pulls in his front tires are over the front line of the box. His team starts changing tires before realizing the car is in violation of the rule, leading to a one-lap penalty.

Lap 502

Johnson gets a solid restart and pulls away cleanly on a green-white-checkered finish as Earnhardt Jr. can't mount a late challenge to take away the victory. Johnson completes his day leading 339 laps and winning for the fourth time in the past five races here.

NEXT RACE

Pep Boys Auto 500

Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Ga.

When: 2 p.m. Sunday.

TV: ABC.

Radio: Performance Racing Network.

Last year's winner: Jimmie Johnson.

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