Jimmie Johnson may be back in championship form after all. After winning the season opening Daytona 500, Johnson has now won his second race of the young NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, dominating the STP Gas Booster 500 at the Martinsville Speedway for his 62nd career win and eighth at Martinsville.
Johnson led a career-high 347 of 500 laps at Martinsville on Sunday, breaking a previous high at the track of 339 laps led. The win also gives Johnson the points lead by six points over last year’s champion, Brad Keselowski.
Johnson didn’t have much to contend with on Sunday, as the only other drivers to lead during the green flag were Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, who combined to lead 152 laps.
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, gave him a run for his money at the end of the race before Clint Bowyer was able to get around Gordon to finish second, at slightly more than 0.6 seconds behind Johnson.
It was a rough day for Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. as both drivers were involved in multiple issues throughout the day, and both majority of the second half of the race struggling after receiving major damage. Busch’s bad day became worse with 15 laps to go where his car caught fire — tt was a moment to reminisce when he drove the Talladega Nights car last year.
Racing throughout the day was just as classic of Martinsville as it gets. There was plenty of beating and banging as almost no drivers had any damage once the checkered flag flew.
Mark Martin struggled in his lone start replacing Denny Hamlin, even though Hamlin was on the radio for the entire race relying messages on how to get the car to drive better off the corner. Eventually, Martin was able to pull through for a 10th place finish.
Danica Patrick had her best career finish on a short track as she finished 12th after being involved in an accident early on in the race which put her two laps down. Patrick shut plenty of people up once she passed her car owner, the guy that doesn’t want to be blocked, Tony Stewart, late in the going. Stewart ended up finishing 17th after struggling all day.
Jamie McMurray‘s bounce back year continued as he ran inside of the top-10 all day before finishing seventh in his best effort of the year. McMurray has been slowly improving each week and was a clear contender for the win. Casey Mears also had a good run as he finished 16th after running outside of the top-30 within the first 100 laps.
Emotions were high throughout the STP Gas Booster 500, but it showed that drivers are returning to their grassroots form, something fans have been asking for over the past few years. However, when it comes to wrecking equipment, that’s crossing the line and drivers need to learn to handle it after the race.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.