MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway became a battle among the unexpected.
First Kyle Busch, a master at seemingly every short track but this one, took the lead in the Goody's 500. Then, with a bump to get to the front, came Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had not won in 98 straight races.
But closing quickly was Kevin Harvick, with a Richard Childress Racing team that hadn't won at Martinsville since 1995.
The race went to Harvick for the second consecutive week when he passed NASCAR's most popular driver with four laps left.
"As I was catching him, I'm like, 'Man, I'm going to be the bad guy here,' " Harvick said. "I've got to do what I've got to do. I know the fans want to see him win. I want to see him win. … We all need him to win.
"But I'm not going to back down."
Earnhardt settled for second and still has not won since Michigan in June 2008, his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, but he moved up to eighth in points.
"I am frustrated. I got close," he said. "I ain't won in a long time. I was thinking at the end I was meant to win the damn race."
Busch was third.
Hamlin and Johnson combined to win the previous nine races at Martinsville but Sunday they missed the top 10.
Johnson was flagged for speeding on pit road late, finished 11th, and was irritated with NASCAR.
"I wasn't speeding," he insisted. " … There is just no way. It won't do me any good to have a conversation (with NASCAR). It isn't going to matter."
Hamlin, Busch's teammate, was 12th, furious about poor fuel mileage along with slow pit stops by Joe Gibbs Racing.
Harvick struggled early and was a race-low 27th on Lap 234 of 500. But a 25-minute red flag to fix a wall damaged in a violent hit by Martin Truex gave the No. 29 crew a chance to regroup.
"We were terrible, no other way to put it," crew chief Gil Martin said. "The red flag was actually a good thing for us because … we went to the bottom of the pit box, six or seven of us together, and we thought about what we could do."
Truex's throttle stuck open and his car hit Kasey Kahne's car and the wall. Both were uninjured.
Earnhardt pulled ahead of Busch with 20 laps to go with a bump-and-pass move that brought no complaints.
"I was holding him up, so it was good for him," Busch said. " … No harm, no foul."
The fans came to their feet with that move, until Harvick spoiled the party for Junior Nation with four laps left.
"I'll probably think about it a million times what I probably could have done differently," Earnhardt said. "If I know what's best for me, I should probably have a good attitude about what happened and probably go into the next race and use it as momentum and confidence, like any other good driver would do, instead of worrying about, you know, how close we came."
. fast facts
Winner's average speed: 74.195 mph
Time of race: 3 hours, 32 minutes, 41 seconds
Margin of victory: 0.727 seconds
Caution flags: 11 for 72 laps
Lead changes: 31 among 12 drivers
Lap leaders: McMurray 1-31; Kahne 32; Newman 33-34; Hamlin 35-54; Johnson 55-77; Ky.Busch 78-107; Hamlin 108; Johnson 109-123; Hamlin 124-133; Bowyer 134-176; Hamlin 177; Johnson 178-204; Hamlin 205; Bowyer 206-250; J.Gordon 251-256; Bowyer 257-259; Hamlin 260-314; Ky.Busch 315-320; J.Gordon 321-324; Newman 325; Allmendinger 326-331; Edwards 332-334; Harvick 335; Ky.Busch 336-352; Hamlin 353; Ky.Busch 354-364; J.Gordon 365-391; Ky.Busch 392-466; Harvick 467; Ky.Busch 468-479; Earnhardt Jr. 480-496; Harvick 497-500
Sprint Cup points
Through 6 of 36 races. The top 10 drivers plus two wild cards (based on wins) after 26 races make the Chase for the Championship.
Driver Pts. Back
Kyle Busch 219—
Carl Edwards 214 5
Jimmie Johnson 207 12
Kurt Busch 205 14
Kevin Harvick 204 15
Ryan Newman 203 16
Juan Montoya 201 18
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 199 20
Matt Kenseth 195 24
Mark Martin 181 38
Note: Points unofficial; NASCAR posts official points today