October 21, 2007
07:56 PM EDT
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Jimmie Johnson made the pass he didn't allow Jeff Gordon to make in the spring, sneaking inside Gordon with 44 laps to go Sunday and holding on to win at Martinsville Speedway for his series-high seventh victory of the year.
The Hendrick Motorsports teammates who have dominated the Nextel Cup Series all season did it again at the tricky track where their superiority is most apparent, and Johnson got some unexpected late help from Ryan Newman to tighten the points race.
Jimmie Johnson won his third consecutive race at Martinsville. Johnson crossed the start-finish under caution. There were 21 yellows, a track record.
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Newman challenged Gordon for second with nine laps to go, getting increasingly more physical, and finally passed him on the inside on the 494th circuit as Johnson opened a lead of nearly 2 seconds. He then had to withstand a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish, with Gordon lurking third and ready to take advantage if the leaders faltered.
They didn't, and Johnson held on through one lap before the race-record 21st caution came out. Johnson gained in the championship chase with four races remaining, cutting Gordon's lead to 53 points heading to Atlanta next weekend.
"This thing's not over yet," said Johnson, the defending series champion.
Newman held on for second, Gordon was third and Kyle Busch fourth.
"Jimmie was strong, we were strong, and he got the best of us," Gordon said.
Shuffled back into the pack during the middle of the race by staggered pit stops, the Hendrick teammates moved to the front when all the leaders pitted with 158 laps to go, raising expectations that they would again stage a stirring duel to the finish.
In the spring, the first time the Car of Tomorrow was used on the shortest track on the circuit, Johnson held off Gordon for the last 53 laps, his car withstanding some aggressive banging from behind by Gordon, to win his second straight race on the oval.
That victory gave the pair seven of the last nine victories at Martinsville, and Johnson's third straight on the series' oldest oval only made it more pronounced.
It also gave the defending series champ a sweep of the four short-track races in Virginia this year. He also won both races at Richmond International Raceway and became the first driver to sweep those four races since Richard Petty in 1972.
Pit stops were staggered throughout the race, but when the 12th caution came out with 158 laps to go, all the leaders but one headed for pit road. Busch stayed out to retake the lead, and teammates Johnson and Gordon were the next two off pit road.
They both made quick work of Busch, then opened a large lead over third-place Kevin Harvick, even when they caught lapped traffic and had to navigate around slower cars.
Gordon was riding right on Johnson's bumper, but had made no effort to pass him, when David Stremme spun exiting Turn 2 and they all headed for their final pit stops.
Gordon's crew got him out first, and Newman also beat Johnson out, taking a gamble by taking only two tires and perhaps banking on some help from yellow flags.
Gordon had built a sizable lead over nine laps when Stremme spun again and hit the wall in Turns 1 and 2. Gordon quickly rebuilt it when it went back to green, and held it through a few restarts, too, before Johnson passed him one last time.