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To say Jimmie Johnson is a master of Martinsville (Va.) Speedway is not a stretch. And Johnson, an eight-time winner at the .526-mile oval, proved it again Sunday with a fifth-place finish in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS. The result kept him in the hunt for his sixth Sprint Cup Series title. He is tied for the lead in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with Matt Kenseth, but Kenseth holds the tie-breaker with more wins, seven to Johnson’s five.
The finish is Johnson’s 17th top-five and 21st top-10 result at Martinsville. He has 14 top-five finishes in 33 races this season, including five in the first seven races of the Chase.
Johnson benefited from a second-place starting spot and rarely ran outside the top-10 for the 500-lap event, reporting mostly tight handling with his Lowe’s machine. Crew chief Chad Knaus called him in for service for the first time on lap 87. Johnson took two tires, lining up third on the restart. Knaus radioed the position was better since Johnson started on the inside lane instead of the outside, a spot that would prove troublesome throughout the race.
On lap 302, five-time Sprint Cup champion Johnson found himself in second position after he stayed out during a caution several laps before. He battled to create a spot in the inside lane when another caution flew a few laps later during which he stayed out again. He fell to fourth while racing for position.
Johnson pitted again on lap 328. Several cars stayed out during the caution, putting Johnson, who took four tires, in 20th and in the outside lane again for the restart. He pitted for the final time on lap 423 while in fifth place and restarted seventh. The race remained green the rest of the way, with Johnson making up two spots to finish fifth.
“It’s been a great battle with the No. 20 car (Kenseth), and the No. 24 (Jeff Gordon) is really showing that he wants to be a part of this deal, as well,” said Johnson when asked about the points standings. “And there are some other guys back there kind of close. So it’s going to be a dogfight to the end. The way that I would want to go racing for a championship, and I know that’s exactly what the fans want to see. We’ll keep digging hard. We had a decent day today and see if we can’t get this Lowe’s Chevrolet to Victory Lane here soon.”
Jeff Gordon won the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 to score his 88th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his eighth at Martinsville. His victory clinched the 2013 manufacturer’s title for Chevrolet, the brand’s 37th in the Sprint Cup Series and 11th in a row.
Kenseth finished .605 of a second behind Gordon in the runner-up spot, while Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski and Johnson rounded out the top-five. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 17 caution periods for 111 laps, with six drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.
With three races remaining before a champion is crowned after the season finale Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the top-13 drivers competing for the title rank as follows:
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the eighth race of the 10-race Chase – is the AAA 500 Nov. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The race begins at 3 p.m. EST, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with a pre-race show at 2 p.m.