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Johnson wins at Martinsville, takes over points lead

The SportsXchange

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Jimmie Johnson is back in familiar territory - atop the Chase race.

Johnson won the Tums Fast Relief 500 Sunday at Martinsville Speedway to leap in front of former series frontrunner Brad Keselowski and take the Chase for the Sprint Cup lead into Texas next week.

Johnson entered the race seven points behind Keselowski, but his win, coupled with Keselowski's sixth-place finish, gives Johnson a two-point edge in the standings with three races to go.

The day couldn't be considered a disappointment for Keselowski, however. He qualified poorly Friday and started the race 32nd, then battled all day to steadily move through the field to reach sixth, a good finish, all things considered.

Following Johnson in the top five finishers on Sunday were Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer.

The new Chase standings show Johnson in front, Keselowski second, Bowyer third (26 points behind), Kahne fourth (29 behind) and Denny Hamlin, the day's big loser, 49 behind in fifth.

Hamlin was 20 points behind Keselowski entering the race and was shooting for big gains, but he ran into a roadblock at what has been one of his best tracks.

With 130 laps left in the race and Hamlin running in the top 10, his Toyota lost power. He restored power by switching batteries, but the car's gauges continued to spin wildly, indicating more serious problems. A few laps later, Hamlin's car stalled on the frontstretch, bringing out the day's eighth caution.

Hamlin was pushed to the garage area by a wrecker, putting a dark cloud over his championship chances. He eventually returned to the track 34 laps down but finished 33rd. The problems apparently were caused by a faulty master control switch.

NOTES: The weekend wasn't a total loss for Hamlin. He made a late-race run to victory in Saturday's Kroger 200 Camping World Truck Series race. Hamlin nudged aside leader Matt Crafton with six laps remaining to move into first and claim the win, an aggressive action that irritated Crafton, leading him to bump into Hamlin's truck on the cool-down lap. ... After missing two races because of concussions, Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to competition in Sunday's race, finishing 21st. Martinsville is not considered one of Earnhardt Jr.'s best tracks. He entered Sunday's event with an 0-for-25 record on the half-mile track. But those numbers are somewhat deceptive. Earnhardt Jr. has 10 top-five finishes at the track. ... One of the distinctive aspects of Martinsville Speedway, at once the smallest and slowest track in NASCAR, is the set of railroad tracks that roughly parallel the track's backstretch and run behind the small section of backstretch grandstands. Freight trains often rumble along the tracks during races. ... Only three races remain in the battle for the Sprint Cup championship - at Texas Motor Speedway Nov. 4, at Phoenix International Raceway Nov. 11 and at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 18.
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