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Johnson wins third straight at Martinsville Speedway

Oct 21, 2007 - 10:58 PM By Bruce Martin PA SportsTicker Contributing Editor

MARTINSVILLE, Virginia (Ticker) - Jimmie Johnson is challenging Jeff Gordon as "Mr. Martinsville" after the defending NASCAR Nextel Cup Series champion won Sunday's Subway 500.

It was Johnson's fourth win at the .526-mile short track and the driver from El Cajon, California was able to sweep both Martinsville races in 2007. He becomes the first driver to win three races in a row at Martinsville since Rusty Wallace in 1994 and 1995.

"I went into victory lane and congratulated him and gave him his new title, 'Mr. Martinsville,'" said Gordon, who has seven wins in 30 Martinsville starts compared to Johnson's four wins in 12 starts.

That victory lane visit was important to the winner who collected $244,486 for the victory.

"He came over to victory lane and congratulated me after the win and that really meant a lot to me,"Johnson said. "He is certainly a class act in motorsports."

Johnson's Chevrolet Impala finished ahead of Ryan Newman's Dodge Avenger in a green-white-checkered flag finish that was aborted after one lap when David Ragan's car spun in the first turn.

NASCAR officials waited to throw the yellow flag, which ended the race, leaving Ragan in potential jeopardy. When the yellow flag was finally waved, Johnson was first followed by Newman and Nextel Cup points leader Jeff Gordon, who now leads Johnson by 53 points with four races remaining.

"This was a great day of racing," Johnson said. "A shootout at the end is not my strong suit so I was happy to win that. When you are racing the 24 (Johnson) and the 12 (Newman) was there ... we did a good job today and I'm proud of what I did.

"It was pretty good for us across the board."

It was Johnson's seventh win this season and his 30th career win and he was able to get the best of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Gordon for the second straight Martinsville race.

"It didn't wind up quite the way we wanted it to," Gordon said. "Our car was great in the long runs. We sure didn't need those cautions at the end. It's still a good day for us. I really didn't have anything for Jimmie at the end.

"Jimmie was strong, we were strong and he got the best of us in the end."

Another Hendrick driver, Kyle Busch, finished fourth followed by Matt Kenseth's Ford Fusion.

Johnson was able to gain 15 points on Gordon in the Nextel Cup points race but Gordon remains confident he can win his fifth title.

"If we are in the lead by one-point it's better than not being in the lead at all," Gordon said. "It's just another race we check off the schedule."

Johnson led the final 50 laps in a race that featured a race-record 21 cautions for 127 laps in the 505-lap race.

Newman's second-place run came after he shoved Gordon's Chevrolet out of the way on lap 495.

"I had a little bump-and-run with the 24 car (Gordon) at the end," Newman said. "I've had that happen to me in the past so I don't feel bad about giving it back to him this time."

The two drivers talked about the incident after the race ended.

"I explained why I was upset and he explained why he was upset so we got that out of the way and it's over with," Gordon said.

Gordon started on the pole and led the first 108 laps of the race before the contest became interrupted by numerous caution periods, typical of a short-track race at Martinsville.

Clint Bowyer finished ninth and now trails the leader by 115 points.

Those are the only three drivers that have a legitimate shot at the championship with four races left as "The Chase for the Nextel Cup" moves on to Atlanta Motor Speedway next Sunday. Tony Stewart is fourth in the points race but 249 points out of the lead with three top drivers ahead of him. The two-time Cup champion finished 13th.

The last driver in the 12-driver Chase is Kenseth, who is 462 points out of the lead.

Because of the high number of yellow flags that interrupted the flow of the race, there was never a sense of continuity to this contest. But there remained a sense of who the major players would be at the end of the race that it would be decided between Johnson and Gordon just as it was here in April.

"The circumstances were different and I had the same set of emotions I had here in the spring race," Johnson said. "I was more worried about the 12 (Newman) than the 24 in the closing laps. I'm happy to see that through these last few weeks people have had more of an inside look at these teams.

"There's no one we would rather beat more than the 24 (Gordon). As a competitor, I don't want to lose. I want to win the championship. There is even more respect for Jeff Gordon. He has respect for me because I'm able to race him hard and today I was able to do it to him."

Gordon led twice for 168 laps while Johnson's Chevrolet was in front four times for 147 laps. There were 12 lead changes among seven drivers but with more than one-fifth of the race run under yellow, it brought the average speed down to 66.608 miles per hour in a race that had six extra laps because of the late caution that set up the green-white-checkered finish.

"If we had less cautions the rhythm and the pace would have helped me even more," Johnson said. "From my standpoint, things went by quick today in the car. I was just focused on what we needed to do."

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