MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Jimmie Johnson didn't have the car to beat until late in the Goody's 500 on Sunday, but that he emerged at the right time should have been no surprise.
After all, he is Mr. Martinsville.
Johnson nudged Denny Hamlin aside in the third and fourth turns with 15 laps to go at Martinsville Speedway, and gave team owner Rick Hendrick a perfect place to celebrate the upcoming 25th anniversary of his first victory in NASCAR's premier series: Victory Lane.
Johnson and Hamlin had differing views of the pass that gave Johnson his fifth victory in the past six races on NASCAR's smallest, trickiest track. Hamlin said it was a bump and standard short-track fare on the 0.526-mile circuit; Johnson thought the video would change Hamlin's opinion.
On the pass, Johnson caught Hamlin and got inside him on the backstretch on Lap 485 of 500. From the outside, Hamlin tried to cut down in front of Johnson, bringing the contact.
Johnson gathered control and grabbed the lead. Hamlin kept his car from hitting the wall and tried to give chase, but Johnson pulled away and coasted to victory.
"If he wants to think that I tried moving him out of the way, he can believe that, but he should watch the video and see that I was inside of him," Johnson said. "I did everything I could to miss him — climbed up on the curb — and he was still coming down."
Hamlin said he bore no ill will, but he looks forward to a chance to reciprocate.
"I would have done the same to him and if it comes back around, I will do the same thing," he said. "It's just the way it is. At Martinsville, you've got to battle for every inch."
Clearly, nobody does that better than Johnson.
Dubbed "Mr. Martinsville" by teammate Jeff Gordon, Johnson won here for the sixth time overall, second among active drivers to Gordon's seven.
The victory was the 18th, and 10th in the past 13 races, for Hendrick Motorsports at Martinsville. The team's first win in NASCAR's top series came on April 29, 1984, with Geoff Bodine driving. That gave the fledgling company a needed boost — plus new sponsorship that helped fund a full season. Bodine won twice more that year and the seeds for Sprint Cup's best team were planted.
Hendrick, who missed that first win, gave Johnson a bear hug in Victory Lane.
Gordon led 147 laps, then Hamlin led 296, dominating most of the race.
After Johnson took the lead coming out of the pits with 72 laps to go, Hamlin ducked inside him on a restart with 45 laps left. Hamlin, born in Brandon but raised in Virginia, led through three restarts until the Lap 485 pass.
Hamlin recovered to finish second in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, followed by Tony Stewart, Gordon and Clint Bowyer.
Stewart, who had the best view of the duel for the lead, was disappointed the leaders' contact didn't give him a chance to take advantage but was thrilled nonetheless.
"We're inching up closer," said Stewart, a first-year co-owner.