The Round of 8 for NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup got underway Sunday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway, and Jimmie Johnson made a statement at the famed short-track course with his fourth win of the season.
The win catapulted Johnson to the top of the Chase standings. Martinsville Speedway's Twitter account relayed video of the No. 48 car in Victory Lane:
NASCAR on Twitter posted another angle of Johnson soaking in the win:
Brad Keselowski finished second, while Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.
Here's a look at the top finishers from Sunday's race, with complete results available at FoxSports.com:
|Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Results|
|Place||Driver||Laps Led||Time Behind (seconds)|
|7||Martin Truex Jr.||147||9.269|
And here's an overview of the updated Chase standings following Johnson's triumph:
|NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Standings (Through Oct. 30)|
All eyes were on Johnson entering Sunday's race—and for good reason.
The No. 48 car has historically dominated at Martinsville, and he entered with a pristine track record that trumped those of his competitors. According to CBSSports.com's Yvonne Jones, he owned an average finish of 7.52 that was buoyed by eight wins in advance of Sunday's race.
Johnson came into the pivotal Chase race looking to snap a two-year winless streak at Martinsville and lingered in the middle of the pack throughout the early stages. But despite trailing, while Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. dominated the early laps, he crept up the leaderboard steadily and moved into the top five after 375 laps.
Johnson's ascent continued over the next 30 laps, and he eventually passed Hamlin for first place on Lap 407, according to Joe Gibbs Racing on Twitter.
NASCAR on NBC offered a look at the pivotal moment:
As far as omens go, Sunday's win is quite a good one for Johnson. He last won at Homestead in 2013, and that year also represented the last time the No. 48 came away with a Sprint Cup title.
With Martinsville a thing of the past, the Chase is down to three races.
Texas Motor Speedway will play host to next weekend's festivities, and a trip to Phoenix International Raceway the following week will serve as the penultimate race before this year's champion is crowned at Homestead.
By virtue of Sunday's win, Johnson clinched a spot in the final four at Homestead, according to USA Today's Jeff Gluck.
With his ticket punched to the Round of 4 and his stock surging as the season comes to a close, Johnson should be considered the top threat to clinch the Sprint Cup title.
"I've been trying to ignore this conversation about seven, but now I can't," Johnson said, according to Gluck. "We're locked in. I’m just honored to be in this position. … It’s crazy that we have a shot at seven now. … We’re going to enjoy this and savor this and try to get our ducks in a row for Homestead."
"Congrats to the 48, Jimmie, wow! That was impressive," Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon said, per Gluck. "Everybody had (Johnson) written off. He had the damage on the left front. I hadn’t seen him in my mirror. He caught a break, but he had to go up there and race the 11 (Hamlin)."
Looking ahead, Johnson acknowledged he's simply grateful to be in the lead with three races remaining.
"I’m honored to be in this position, and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the belief that [Lowes and] all of its employees had in me way back when I was winning about 10th or 13th in the Xfinity Series," he said, according to NBC Sports' Daniel McFadin.