Jimmie Johnson scored his first win at Martinsville Speedway since 2013 in Sunday’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500, advancing to the Chase Round of 4 and putting himself in strong contention to win his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
The win was somewhat unexpected for Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports crew. They’ve looked strong throughout the Chase, however Johnson didn’t officially move into the lead until Lap 409 of 500 – and that was after a series of unfortunate events earlier in the race.
Jonson’s troubles began when he and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin made contact, forcing Johnson into the pits for minor repairs and putting him in 25th for the lap 208 restart. Not long after on Lap 358, the No. 48 Chevrolet stalled on the backstretch of the .526-mile short track after experiencing ECU issues. He recycled the system and entered the pits on Lap 366, taking fuel and tires before restarting in fourth.
From that point on, Johnson slowly closed the gap to the leaders before making the pass for first and pulling out a two second lead over those behind. He crossed the finish line 1.291 seconds ahead of Team Penske Ford driver Brad Keselowski. JGR’s Denny Hamlin was third, while teammates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five with respective fourth and fifth place finishes.
The result was Johnson’s ninth win at Martinsville, his fourth win of 2016 and the 79th of his career. The six-time champ said he was avoiding talking about the possibility of locking down yet another championship, but with a spot secured for the Round of 4 shootout at Homestead, the California native knew it was time to address the situation.
“I’ve been trying to ignore the conversation about seven, but now I can’t,” Johnson told NASCAR.com. “We’re locked in. It’s crazy to have a shot at seven now. “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.”