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Jimmie Johnson steals one from Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon...and finally gets a Chevrolet in NASCAR victory circle

   And the winner gets to do those smokey burnouts.....(Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Jimmie Johnson winning at Martinsville Speedway is certainly no surprise, as many times as he's won here, and as many times as car owner Rick Hendrick has won here too.
   But Johnson at least made a game of it this time, waiting till nearly the end of the 3-1/2-hour race to get into contention.
   And then he threw a bump-and-run at Denny Hamlin, the day's dominant runner, and sprinted away to win Sunday's Goody's 500.
   While Hamlin was okay with the shove that Johnson gave him to snatch the lead with 16 laps to go in the 500-lapper, Johnson insisted   "I didn't do a bump-and-run….I was inside him, and we touched. So it's a totally different scenario.
   "I thought I had the preferred lined. I was glad we didn't crash. I was up on the curb, trying to keep off of him.
   "You expect stuff on short tracks. I'm sure his spotter was saying 'Inside,' but he kept coming down.
   "I generally try to be polite with people on the track. I wasn't forcefully trying to move him out of the way. I'm glad he's spoken of me in that regard. We can both look at the tapes and sort it out.
   "If his car were three feet shorter and up in the fence, he might be a little hotter. But this is home state, and he was trying to win here, and I respect that."
   It wasn't the first banging incident between the two. In fact, Hamlin's move just a few minutes earlier to jump inside of then-leader Johnson on a restart was equally breath-taking.
   "Denny just got through the gearbox faster than me…which surprised me, because I thought I was having a pretty good restart," Johnson said.
    "But then we had a couple more cautions, and I finally got position on him, we made some contact, and I was up on the curb. It was a close moment, but just good, hard short-track racing."
   Indeed, when Johnson got to the front, though, it was almost inevitable what was coming next….a Johnson victory.
   "I guess I broke the jinx where people were saying this beard was a jinx," Johnson said with a grin.
    However perhaps overshadowing the win, in the big picture of American automobiles, the news reports that General Motors' CEO Rick Wagoner may be stepping down in the next few days was unsettling here.
    "I hope that's not true," Hendrick said. "Rick Wagoner is a great leader, and I hope he's still there."
   As if in support, Chevy teams took seven of the top eight spots.
    "It is important for Chevrolet to win," Hendrick said after that marque's first tour win of the season. "They've been awfully good to me over these past 25 years."
    There is uncertainty over what politicians in Washington, D.C. might do, or want to do, with the Detroit automakers in the current economic debate.
   Hamlin led 296 laps, mostly battling Jeff Gordon, Johnson's teammate, who led 147 laps.
   But Gordon faded late, finishing fourth, and Johnson moved into contention in the final 50 miles. "I was just chipping away at the lead he had on me," Johnson said of Hamlin. "But I had to drive the car harder than I wanted to….and I saw guys popping right-front tires (with excessive brake heat), and I got nervous."
   At least 15 times right-front tires blew because of excessive brake heat melting the sealing bead.
   Gordon remains atop the Sprint Cup standings, over Clint Bowyer (fifth Sunday) and Kurt Busch (18th), but Johnson made a big jump up to fourth.
   The day's big losers were Kyle Busch, who had trouble all afternoon and struggled in 24th, two laps down; and the Jack Roush men: Jamie McMurray finished 10th, but his Roush teammates were far off the mark – Bobby Labonte 16th, Matt Kenseth 23rd, Carl Edwards 25th, and David Ragan 27th.
   And somewhere there, far behind winner Jimmie Johnson, is a fuming Denny Hamlin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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