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Busch outlasts Johnson at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE — Martinsville Speedway had taken on the reputation of being Hendrick Motorsports’ playground.

Kurt Busch spoiled the Hendrick Motorsports party in Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on the legendary half-mile oval.

Busch squeezed past defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson with 11 laps to go and held off Johnson by .263-second to win the 500-lap marathon.

With the win Busch became the sixth different winner in as many races this season. It was his 25th career win.

“I didn’t know if we’d be able to do it,” Busch said after breaking an 83-race winless streak.

“The 48 car (Johnson) is king here, and the 24 (Jeff Gordon). I’ve been on this journey for awhile. Every time you come to Martinsville you just kind of draw a line through it, like there is no way I’ll be able to challenge those Hendrick guys and be up in that top ten. This Stewart-Haas team gave me a car to do it.”

Busch said “a sharp chill went through my body” when he took the checkered flag. 

“It was a great short-track duel. It’s a great feather in our cap.”

Johnson took the lead on lap 461 when his team got him out of the pits first during the final round of pit stops. He had lost the lead to Clint Bowyer on lap 449, but got a break to regain the lead after Carl Edwards spun in the second turn on lap 458 to bring out the last of the race’s 14 caution periods.

The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion held the top spot until Busch made a pass for the lead with 17 laps to go. He regained the lead on lap 483, but Busch made one last big push and wrestled the lead from Johnson with 11 laps to go to take the victory.

Johnson said he thought he had the race under control once he regained the lead on lap 483.

“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,” Johnson explained.

“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. There wasn’t anything I could do.”

“I had been loose the last third of the race and was hanging on there,” Johnson explained.

“He got back by me. I was hopeful he would wear his stuff out and I’d get back by him and I did. Then, I couldn’t hold him off. I kept getting looser and looser.

“That was all I had,” Johnson added.

“There wasn’t anything else I could do.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third, with Joey Logano and Marcus Ambrose rounding out the top five finishers. Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Bowyer and Paul Menard completed the top 10 finishers.

The race featured a record 33 lead changes among a dozen drivers. Johnson led 11 times for a total of 296 laps, the highest of the race. Busch led three times for a total of 23 laps, including 21 of the race’s last 28 laps. 

Sunday’s win was Busch’s second career Martinsville Speedway victory. His first came in October, 2002.