Denny Hamlin passes Johnson with 138 laps to go to win at Martinsville

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Denny Hamlin turned a dominant car into a winner at Martinsville Speedway, passing Jimmie Johnson with 138 laps to go Sunday and holding off the Chase leader on a series of late restarts.
Helped by a long green-flag run that established him as the dominant car, Hamlin pulled away after a restart with 52 laps to go, ending Johnson's remarkable run of five trips to Victory Lane in the last six races at the shortest circuit in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series.
Hamlin easily pulled away again on another restart with 12 laps to go, and again when a late crash by Scott Speed forced a two-lap sprint to the finish of the 501-lap event.
"The last run or two at the end, the 11 had their stuff right," Johnson said of Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing team. "I was just a little too loose to do anything with them."
Hamlin's second career victory on the 0.526-mile oval kept the Virginia racer as the only driver besides Johnson to win on the paper clip-shaped track in the last seven races. Hamlin won the spring race last year, and was leading when Johnson nudged him aside with 15 laps to go earlier this year. But Hamlin needed no such tactics to avenge that defeat.
He led three times for a race-high 206 laps, while Johnson led 164 circuits.
Johnson, seeking his record fourth consecutive series title, held on for second and padded his lead in the series standings with four races to go. Mark Martin remained second in the standings, but his deficit went from 90 points to 118 when he finished eighth.
Juan Pablo Montoya was third, followed by Kyle Busch, who passed Jeff Gordon on the final lap. Gordon, a four-time series champion, remained third in points, 150 behind Johnson.
Hamlin, who seemingly dominates just as often as Johnson at Martinsville, but without the finishes to show for it, showed he had Johnson's number when he passed him on lap 363.
He then pulled steadily away, deftly moving around lapped traffic and opening a lead of more than four seconds during a long green-flag run. With just over 70 laps to go, radio chatter indicted that the teams were fast approaching pit stops under green, a Martinsville rarity.
The stops started among drivers not in contention, and then Montoya and Johnson headed in, with Hamlin stopping two laps later. He emerged with his nearly four-second lead intact.
The victory was Hamlin's third of the season, a small consolation because after saying he felt like the man to beat in the 10-race Chase for the championship, he had faded to 11th.

Organizations: Johnson's, NASCAR, Sprint Cup Series Joe Gibbs Racing

Geographic location: Martinsville, Virginia

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