Mar 30, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Kurt Busch said after winning Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway that “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” referring to Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who came into the race with eight wins apiece on the .526-mile track.
With both drivers having Hendrick Motorsports power under the hood, Busch beat Johnson to prevent the six-time Sprint Cup champion from earning his ninth career win at NASCAR’s oldest Cup racetrack.
Had Johnson won, he would have overtaken HMS teammate Jeff Gordon for most wins at Martinsville by an active driver (NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty holds the all-time record with 15 wins there).
Johnson yielded the lead to Busch on lap 473, but regained it 10 laps later. With just 17 laps remaining, Johnson felt his tires going away and couldn’t hold off Busch, eventually relinquishing the lead for good with 11 laps remaining.
“Man that is all I had, that is all I could do,” Johnson said. “I got back by him and then he got back to me and I was really, really loose in the closing stages of the race.
“Once he got back to me and put the pressure to me, I couldn’t keep the back under me. I put all the front brake in it that I could and was just hoping I could hold him off, but just wasn’t able to.
Having led 296 of the race’s 500 laps, Johnson appeared headed towards yet another dominating win at Martinsville, but will have to wait again until at least this year’s fall Chase race there to get that elusive ninth win.
“This track is in the Chase, so we’ll come back a lot smarter and try to prevent running second again,” Johnson said. “You just learn from the situation.
“I’m not saying there was a mistake today, but you learn from this weekend and carry it forward. This is a brand new car and a lot of stuff to figure out, so I know in the coming months the car’s setups will be a lot different, and we’ll just keep evolving and try to prevent running second.”
It marked the first time Johnson has ever lost at Martinsville after leading more than 271 laps in the scheduled 500-lap event. Johnson ultimately led 296 laps, only to come up short and finish second.
“(I had) just a very strong race car,” Johnson said. “We unloaded off the truck fast and qualified well and had an awesome car here in the race today.
“Of course, we’re disappointed not to get to victory lane, but there wasn’t anything else I could do. Man, I got back by (Busch) and I thought that we had control of the race then.
“I felt like since I hadn’t seen him through really any part of the day that he might have me on short-run speed but he would fall off. He stayed in my mirror and found a way back by me and then got a car length or so on me and did an awesome job. … I came up a little short, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.”
Johnson is still winless after the first six races, but he doesn’t seem overly concerned, given that he now has four top-six finishes.
“I’ve got to figure something out,” Johnson said. “Hopefully I’ll win a race soon or a championship. To be truthful, last year I felt like some (potential wins) got away that I definitely had control of and was disappointed in myself on some of that.
“Some of the stuff circumstances got me, but we left a lot of wins on the table last year for sure. Today, I couldn’t have done any more. I just got beat. You’re going to have those, too, and you’ve got to recognize when you get beat and you’ve got to recognize when you make mistakes, and today we just got beat.”
While he came so close, Johnson isn’t really fretting. A win Sunday would have been great, but there’s no shame in finishing second.
“We’re definitely in a good place, that’s for sure,” Johnson said. “I think today was very representative of that.”
In addition to what he hoped would have been his ninth career Cup win at Martinsville, Johnson was also seeking to give team owner Rick Hendrick his 220th career Sprint Cup win and 22nd Cup triumph at Martinsville.
The 30th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports’ first Sprint Cup win is April 29, when Geoff Bodine gave Hendrick his first career win as an owner in just the team’s eighth race together.
“We had a very fast race car,” Johnson said. “I wish we could have gotten this for Rick’s 30th anniversary.”
Follow me @JerryBonkowski
Jul 27, 2015, 4:51 PM EDT
Good news, Ricciardo made the podium. Bad news, his trophy didn’t survive it.
Jul 27, 2015, 4:09 PM EDT
Jakes kept his visor down after all on a pit stop in Iowa.
Jul 27, 2015, 3:13 PM EDT
A quick look back at Chaves’ short track debut.
Jul 27, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Karam needs a clean, consistent weekend at Mid-Ohio.
Jul 27, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Rahal and Force compete against each other in a series of fun challenges at Sonoma.
Jul 27, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
If another Dixon Mid-Ohio win happens, it will save his championship chances.
After blowing his chance to cut the gap to Hamilton, Rosberg must now avoid the mistakes of last summer
Jul 27, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Luke Smith considers the fall-out of a dramatic Hungarian Grand Prix that saw both Mercedes drivers miss an opportunity to seize control of the drivers’ championship.
Jul 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Manor makes it through a difficult weekend by getting both of its cars to the finish in Hungary.
Jul 27, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Vettel storms to his 41st career victory in Hungary as both Mercedes drivers hit trouble.
Jul 26, 2015, 11:09 PM EDT
Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Larry Morgan (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won in Sunday’s NHRA Mopar Mile-High Nationals.
Jul 26, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
Sandell finally gets on the board in Round 6 of the Red Bull GRC season.
Jul 26, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
The F1 grid comes together ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix to pay its respects to Jules Bianchi.
Jul 26, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
The Red Bull Global Rallycross doubleheader in Detroit concludes with today’s Round 6.
Jul 26, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT
Ferrari caps off an emotional weekend with victory at the Hungaroring as Mercedes came unstuck.
Jul 26, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Verstappen claims his first top five finish in F1 in Hungary, capping off an impressive first half-season in the sport.
Jul 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
A penalty for Massa and a puncture for Bottas leaves both Williams drivers outside of the points in Hungary.
Jul 26, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
At one stage, Rosberg had been poised to take the lead of the championship into the summer break, only to lose yet more ground on Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Jul 26, 2015, 12:59 PM EDT
A poor start, off-track excursion, collision with Ricciardo and drive-through penalty can’t stop Hamilton from finishing sixth and extending his championship lead.
Jul 26, 2015, 12:02 PM EDT
The stewards were kept very busy in Hungary on Sunday.
- For Dixon, it’s likely Mid-Ohio or bust in terms of 2015 IndyCar title hopes 0
- Race Recap: Vettel draws level with Senna on all-time win list with victory in Hungary 1
- NHRA Mile-High Nationals winners: Torrence, Beckman, Morgan, Krawiec 2
- F1 grid unites to pay tribute to Jules Bianchi (VIDEO) 1
- F1 Paddock Pass: Hungarian GP post-race (VIDEO) 1
- Vettel dedicates Hungarian GP win to Jules Bianchi 2
- Vettel storms to victory in Hungary as Hamilton and Rosberg hit trouble 9