Jimmie Johnson held off Clint Bowyer to score his eighth career Sprint Cup Series win at Martinsville Speedway in Sunday's STP Gas Booster 400.
Johnson started from the pole and led 346 laps on his way to his 62nd career series victory.
“It was just a long, hard-fought day," said Johnson, who led the most laps in a race Sunday during his career. "Martinsville is always tough. You just have to dig in and get into a rhythm and drive your own race and see what happens at the end. I feel like the fastest car won at the end."
The Daytona 500 winner gave Hendrick Motorsports its 20th Martinsville win breaking a tie with Richard Petty Motorsports.
Despite his dominance Johnson had his hands full in the race to the checkered flag. Kurt Busch lost his brakes and slammed the wall in a fiery crash to force NASCAR to red flag the race. Busch was uninjured in the spectacular crash and fire that set up a 13 dash to the finish after a red flag for clean-up.
Johnson lined up with Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon behind; sparking memories of the trio’s controversial crash last April at Martinsville. But once the green flew, Johnson was never seriously challenged and he drove away to take his second victory of the 2013 season.
Bowyer, Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.
"It’s good to see people climb out of the car and be happy instead of being pissed off," Bowyer said. “Last year I had the upper hand on tires and it just didn’t work out. This time I was on the outside and it was just the opposite of that."
Gordon was pleased with his effort and knows how hard it is to beat teammate Johnson at Martinsville.
“It was an exciting day for us,” Gordon said. “You know, same thing kind of what Clint said, we were a little bit tighter when the race started than we anticipated, but we also burned the rear tires off of it the first couple runs.
“We needed the points. We needed a good solid run. The 48, you give him that No. 1 pit stall at Martinsville, and I mean, it's almost near impossible to beat him.”
Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle and Mark Martin completed the first ten finishers.
“Sixth is good, but it’s just not great,” said Keselowski, who suffered a critical and questionable penalty when he was called for having a tire on the line of his pit stall during a late stop. “We want to be able to win here and just haven’t been strong enough to do that. We’ve been strong enough to be proud of what we’ve done, and I’m proud of where we are right here today, but the 48 car is on another level. His car is so much better than everybody else that he just plays with everybody the whole race just to make it look good.”
There was a two part multi-car accident on lap 180 that saw a number of drivers get caught up in separate chain reaction crashes including Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, McMurray, Brian Vickers, Ambrose and Bowyer.
Bowyer and Martin, who stepped into the FedEx Toyota for the injured Denny Hamlin, were able to recover for good finishes.
Danica Patrick’s first career start at Martinsville was an adventure. She started at the rear of the field after changing an engine, spun on lap 16, but worked her way to a 12th-place finish in the end.
“I knew it was going to be a little bit crazy and the bumping and banging really gets going," said Patrick, who got involved in a scuffle with Vickers on the last lap. "I tried to guard the inside right at the end and Vickers gave me a bump; I get it, I was trying to defend and protect my position. But we still came away with a good 12th place finish."
Johnson has a six point lead over Keselowski in the Sprint Cup Series point standings with Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Kahne the first five.
The Sprint Cup Series now heads to Texas Motor Speedway next Saturday night.