Monday, March 30, 2009
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Mr. Martinsville: Johnson wins again at paper clip

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[March 30, 2009]  MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Jimmie Johnson nudged Denny Hamlin aside in the third and fourth turns with 15 laps to go and gave team owner Rick Hendrick a perfect place to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his first victory in NASCAR's premier series: Victory Lane.

Johnson, dubbed "Mr. Martinsville" by Jeff Gordon, lived up to his moniker, winning for the fifth time in the last six races on the smallest, trickiest track in the series. It was his sixth victory at the 0.526-mile oval, second only to Gordon's seven among active drivers.

Hamlin, the defending race champion, never challenged Johnson after he slid high into the banking after the bump and pass, and his winless streak extended to 32 races.

Hamlin finished second, followed by Tony Stewart, Gordon and Clint Bowyer.

The victory was the 18th for Hendrick Motorsports at Martinsville, where a victory by Geoff Bodine 25 years ago gave the fledgling company a needed boost, and the 10th in the last 13 races. Johnson has won six of those, and Gordon has won the other four.

Johnson's 41st career victory came after it looked like Hamlin had outfoxed him.


The Virginia native ducked inside Johnson on a restart with 45 laps to go, gaining the position he needed to take the lead, and held it through three restarts before Johnson caught him on the backstretch on the 485th lap. From the outside, Hamlin tried to cut down in front of Johnson, bringing the contact that sent him sideways up the banking.

Johnson gathered control and grabbed the lead, while Hamlin kept his car from hitting the wall and tried to give chase, but Johnson pulled away easily and coasted to victory.

"He tried to put the squeeze on me and I was up on the curb and sliding and we got together," Johnson said in Victory Lane, before getting a bear hug from Hendrick.

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"He did a helluva job saving it," Johnson said of Hamlin.

Hamlin said he bore Johnson no ill will, but will look forward to exacting his revenge.

"I would have done the same to him and if it comes back around, I will do the same thing," he said. "It's just the way it is. At Martinsville, you've got to battle for every inch."

For Johnson, the finish was not surprising considering his record at Martinsville, but it was since Hamlin and Gordon had dominated the first 428 laps. Gordon led 147 early, and Hamlin led almost all of the rest until emerging second with 72 laps remaining.

Gordon, who started on the pole for the eighth time at the track when qualifying was rained out and the starting lineup was set on points, ran in the top five for most of the day, but still saw his winless streak extend to a career-high 47 races.

He did remain the points leader by 89 over Bowyer.

[Associated Press; By HANK KURZ Jr.]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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