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Hamlin Edges Johnson At Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE — Over the past three seasons Jimmie Johnson has turned Martinsville Speedway into his own private playground.

With six wins in the last seven Martinsville Speedway races entering Sunday’s Tums Fast Pain Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Johnson has been the dominant figure at the half-mile paper clip-like oval.

Denny Hamlin, though, has temporarily disrupted Johnson’s playground.

Hamlin, from Chesterfield, took the lead from Johnson on lap 363 and staved off Johnson in two restarts in the final 12 laps, including the final two-lap sprint, to win Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

The win was the third of the season for Hamlin, who reversed the finishing order on Johnson from the spring race here when Johnson bumped Hamlin out of the way with 16 laps to go and went on to win the race.

It was the first Chase win of the season for Hamlin who now has two career wins at Martinsville Speedway. The win also gave Hamlin his eighth top-10 finish in nine races here.

“It feels great to get three wins this season — more than we’ve had in any other season,” Hamlin said.

“It’s a feel-good win for us after the past two weeks. This is the best we’ve been. It’s just a shame our Chase has gone so bad.”

The last 150 laps turned into a rematch of the battle Hamlin and Johnson had here in the spring race. In the spring race, Johnson bumped Hamlin up the racetrack and out of the groove to take the lead and went on to win the race.

There was none of that in Sunday’s race.

While the pair battled each other on three double-file restarts in the final 52 laps of the race, there was no rough play. Each time Hamlin was able to get clear of Johnson within a lap and obtain an advantage.

“We just had the best car at the end,” Hamlin said.

“The 48 (Johnson) didn’t do anything that he shouldn’t have and made sure that he protected his points lead. Jimmie obviously gave us a lot of respect there towards the end. He knew that we had a faster car and decided to protect his points lead.

“That was a good situation we were in,” added Hamlin.

“We were kind of racing for nothing. He’s obviously racing for a championship.”

Johnson, who led five times for 164 laps, said he had one chance to get the advantage of Hamlin, that coming with 40 laps to go.

“He caught the curb with about 40 to go and lost some drive off of the corner,” Johnson said.

“I got beside him and he blocked me like he did in the spring. I wasn’t far enough under him to stay in there like I was in the spring. After that, I could match his laps but he started inching away from me at the end. If I felt I had the car to win the race I’d have been up there leaning on him some.”

Nevertheless, it was still a good day for Johnson. Johnson, who had won three of the five Chase races entering yesterday’s 500-lap event, padded his lead over Mark Martin in the series points standings to 118 points with Jeff Gordon sitting in third place 150 points back.

Juan Pablo Montoya finished third with Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon rounding out the top five finishers.

Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Martin, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick completed the top ten.

South Boston’s Jeff Burton started 22nd and led the race once for a brief four-lap period. He finished 15th.

Hamlin averaged 73.633 mph in the race that was slowed by 15 caution periods that consumed 77 laps. There were 21 lead changes among a dozen different drivers.