MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Denny Hamlin figured if he was going to make a run at Jimmie Johnson's points lead, there was no better place to start than Martinsville Speedway.
Hamlin passed Kevin Harvick for the Tums 500 lead with 29 laps to go Sunday and earned his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup win at the smallest track in the series.
With his series-leading seventh victory this season, Hamlin became the first driver since Johnson in 2007 to sweep both races here, and he and Harvick closed the gap on Johnson in the points race with four events to go. Hamlin cut his 41-point deficit to six, the smallest with four races left since the Chase for the Championship began in 2004.
"Who said this was over?" Hamlin asked. "I told you it wasn't over."
He entered the race not viewing it as a must-win but rather a "must-finish-in-front-of," he said.
Determined to outqualify Johnson and get the sometimes-critical first pit stall, Hamlin won the pole for just the second time this season. Johnson qualified 19th, and Harvick 36th.
But once the race began, Hamlin went backward. By the first caution and restart about 50 laps in, he was behind both of them. Johnson was eighth, Harvick ninth and Hamlin 12th.
"I don't think I've ever closed that well, ever," Hamlin said after his 15th career victory and fourth at Martinsville.
"Everyone saw how far back we were dropping, and I thought it was the end of our day," he said. "We kept fighting, kept digging, kept making up spots."
Harvick finished third after Mark Martin passed him late, but Harvick had his best showing in 19 starts at the 0.526-mile oval; he never had been better than seventh.
"We kept the (No.) 48 (Johnson) behind us and the 11 (Hamlin) in sight in what everybody said was a two-horse race, and we were right there in the middle of it," said Harvick, who gained 15 points in the standings and now trails Johnson by just 62.
Johnson, the four-time defending series champion, rallied to finish fifth. "For a while I thought the 29 (Harvick), the 11 and us were just going to ride together all day long," he said, "but then the 11 got going there at the end."
Harvick led during most of a long green-flag run until Hamlin got to his rear bumper, then went to his inside. They raced side-by-side for five laps before Harvick checked up coming out of Turn 2, falling in line behind Hamlin on Lap 472.
Jeff Gordon had said earlier in the week he figured his chances for a fifth series title were pretty much gone. On Sunday, Kurt Busch made sure there was no doubt, bumping Gordon and sending him into a wall.
"He shoved me in there, and I shoved him back in Turn 4," Busch said before detailing a history of discontent with Gordon at Martinsville. "His chicken move afterward wasn't called for, but that shows the game we're going to play. One bump vs. another bump, it still seems like the scorecard isn't even."
Gordon had been running near the front but finished 20th.
Harvick and Jeff Burton of Richard Childress Racing had a spat racing near the lead during a restart with about 150 laps to go. Burton slid in line in front of Harvick, and Harvick nudged him to show his displeasure.
"He is out of mulligans. He's done it to me three times now," Harvick said on his radio.
Burton was adamant he did nothing wrong and offered some advice to his teammate: "Every time it's a conflict, he is involved. And you would think over the amount of years that he has done it, that he would get the hint that he is always in the middle of it and maybe sometimes if he just backed up a little bit and caught his breath, he would be okay."