Danica Spins Earnhardt
Danica Patrick recovered from an early spin to finish 12th in her first race at NASCAR's shortest track; Dale Jr. relinquishes the championship points lead

Jimmie Johnson closed out a perfect weekend at Martinsville Speedway, winning the race in dominant fashion. Johnson started on the pole and led 346 laps Sunday on the way to his 62nd career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.

With the victory, his eighth at Martinsville, Johnson became the track’s all-time win leader among active drivers. He was tied with four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon. His total of eight wins there is third all-time, behind NASCAR Hall of Famers "The King" Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip.

“We had a great weekend, probably the most calm, relaxed thought-out we’ve had. We really fell back on our experience and stayed committed to that,” said Johnson. “In the race we had to adjust on the fly. The track changed more than we thought it would. And then the 15 (Clint Bowyer) and the 24 (Gordon) showed up and I had my hands full.”

Bowyer overcame an early-race smash-up that damaged his No. 15 car heavily to finish second while Gordon bounced back from a pit-stop miscue to finish third. A second-place finish did little to soothe Bowyer.

“We had a good car all weekend long so it’s incredibly disappointing to be honest to have such a good car,” said Bowyer. “Second is decent in this sport, but it still sucks.”

Rookie Danica Patrick, in her first trip to Martinsville was perhaps the surprise of the day. After falling two laps down early, she fought her way back to the lead lap and finished 12th, racing three-wide with Kevin Harvick and Brian Vickers at the start-finish line.

“We were two laps down at one time and I’m most proud of getting those back and running strong on the lead lap to the end. This team has a lot to be proud of,” said Patrick, the highest finishing rookie in the race. “I had a spin at the very beginning (of the race). I felt like I kind of got punched down, but I learned my lesson from that.”

Sunday’s victory lifted Johnson into first place in the standings six points ahead of Brad Keselowski and twelve up on Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Junior Nation” entered the weekend as the points leader but slipped to third with a 24th-place finish.  Late-race contact with Patrick sent NASCAR’s most popular driver spinning off the pace and he finished two laps down. 

Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Texas on Saturday, April 13 (8 p.m. EST, FOX)—Race 7 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17). The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2013 Sprint Cup Series Championship. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.

Tickets for NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 15-17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale to the general public on May 1.

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