MARTINSVILLE, va. -- As expected, Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway. But it was not as easy as everyone expected.
During the middle of the race, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch were faster than Johnson. And with 75 laps to go, it was obvious that Jeff Gordon had the fastest car and was running down Johnson.
But as crew chief Chad Knaus told Johnson over the radio with 52 laps to go, "The 24 (Gordon) is faster than us, but with a small little adjustment, we will be okay."
And how right Knaus was. Johnson was the strongest in the deciding stages of the race, holding off Clint Bowyer and Gordon to win his second race of 2013 and his eighth at Martinsville.
"For a long time, I thought Matt Kenseth was going to win this race," Johnson said, "and he doesn't like this place. But we made the right changes at the end, and we were at our best when it counted."
Kasey Kahne finished fourth and Kyle Busch edged Brad Keselowski by inches fifth in a side-by-side duel on the final lap.
Completing the top 10 were Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle and Mark Martin, subbing for injured Denny Hamlin.
Danica Patrick, in her first race at one of the toughest tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, finished a surprising 12th as she lost a last-lap, three-wide battle with Brian Vickers and Kevin Harvick.
Patrick brought out the first yellow flag on lap 70 when she tried to pass Ken Schrader, who cut her off and she spun out to miss him.
Later, she fell two laps down, but twice she used the wave around to get a lap back. Once she got back on the lead lap, she became very aggressive and passed many of the top drivers, including her boss, Tony Stewart, and point leader Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Late in the race, Patrick was trying to pass Earnhardt again with 35 laps to go when she was hit from behind by Vickers. Her car turned into Earnhardt's, causing a spin that brought out the yellow.
Bowyer had just passed Gordon for second when the yellow flew.
For the rest of the race, Johnson was able to win each restart. He ended up leading five times for 346 laps.
Kenseth, who led three times for 96 laps, wound up 14th when he decided to gamble on a four-tire pit stop with eight laps to go. The move backfired as Kenseth was not able to get back to the top six where he was running when he pitted.
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