MARTINSVILLE, Va -- After a debacle on the final caution of the race, Jimmie Johnson was able to punch his ticket into the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway as he will win the Goody’s Fast Relief 500. This will be his ninth career win at Martinsville, and his fourth win of 2016. Johnson goes into Homestead vying for his seventh championship.
“I’ve been trying to ignore this conversation about seven (championships) but now I can’t! We’re locked in. I’m just honored to be in this position. I wouldn’t be in this position without the belief of Lowe’s and all their employees had in me back when I was running 10th or 15th in the Busch Series. Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon… all of the people who have believed in me to get this point. It’s crazy that we have a shot at seven now. We couldn’t do it without our partners at Chevrolet, Valvoline and the list goes on and on. Thanks to them all very much,” said Johnson in his post-race celebration.
The first half of the race started with Martin Truex Jr. leading the field to green. Truex was able to get a good jump on the start and lead the opening laps of the race. The caution flew on lap 20 for a spin by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was already in a backup car. However, Martin Truex Jr. pitted losing the lead giving it to Joey Logano. On the restart, Truex was making gains to the front of the field. Truex was able to prove that having new tires was the way to go. NASCAR black-flagged David Ragan, and threw out the caution for fluid being dropped by the 23. Logano attempted to get to the bottom of the racetrack on the restart, but was unable to and continued to drop. Kyle Larson was able to get to the bumper of Truex and take the lead away, but was unable to gold onto the position. After leading for awhile, Kyle Busch was able to pass Truex to gain the lead, but held onto the lead for a couple laps. As the race went green, teams were becoming more conservative with their equipment. The caution flew for debris as teams were getting prepared for green flag pit stops. On the restart, Truex Jr. was able to gain the point, but let Matt Kenseth take the lead to gain a bonus point. Kenseth was able to take the lead back from Truex Jr at Lap 180. As Kenseth remained in the lead a battle for sixth between Jimmie Johnson and Hamlin ensued as Hamlin continued to march after his pit road speeding penalty, and gained the position as they bumped and banged. Johnson suffered a tire rub from the contact, but the caution flew for a torn banner on the backstretch. On the restart, Kenseth was the control car as Logano tried to get to the inside of the track and was able to find his way back to the eighth position. As the race approached the halfway point, the sun began to peak from behind the clouds. At the halfway point, Kenseth was the leader, Hamlin was second, Ky. Busch was third, Gordon was fourth, and Truex Jr. rounded out the top-five as the race entered into the second half.
The second half of the race continued a green flag run. Toyota continued to show their dominance as Kenseth, Ky. Busch, and Hamlin lead the field. As Kenseth hits strong lapped traffic, Hamlin was able to close in on Kenseth, but couldn’t gain the lead. Hamlin was being help up by Casey Mears. As pit stops were coming up, Kenseth was reporting that the left rear tire was going down, but seemed to recover. As green flag stops were underway, the caution flew for contact with the wall by Carl Edwards. As the field was under caution, Johnson ran out of fuel on the backstretch. The caution period was long due to mass confusion by NASCAR and drivers about where they were starting. Hamlin had the race lead as the race restarted. After a couple laps battling for the lead, Johnson passed Hamlin to gain the lead. Johnson was able to build a lead over the Joe Gibbs Racing teams of Hamlin, Kenseth, and Ky. Busch as the race winded down. As the race went green, Keselowski was on the move to the front in an effort to pounce on Johnson for the race win. However, time ran out for Keselowski as Johnson sat sail to victory.
The race experienced five cautions for 54 laps. The average speed of the race was 78.537 mph. The margin of victory was 1.291 seconds. There were 15 lead changes among nine different drivers. Ky. Busch led the most laps at 176, Truex Jr. led 147 laps, Johnson was able to lead 92 laps, Hamlin led 48 laps, Logano led 21 laps, Larson led six laps, Allmendinger led five laps, Ky. Busch led three laps, and Regan Smith led two laps. 38 drivers were running at the end of the race. Only 10 drivers were on the lead lap.
With the win by Johnson, he is an automatic lock as one of the four championship contenders at Homestead. The four drivers who are out as of right now include Logano who is four points away from the cutoff line, Harvick who is 16 points behind the cutoff, Ku. Busch who is 18 points behind the cutoff, and Edwards who is 32 points behind the cutoff.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500 for the second race of the “Round of Eight” in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Coverage from Texas will begin on Friday with first practice beginning at 12:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN.