Jimmie Johnson punches his ticket to title race with Martinsville win

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Jimmie Johnson’s quest for his seventh career championship is alive and well.

Johnson won Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway, locking himself into the NASCAR title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway next month. He’ll face three yet-to-be-determined drivers to decide the championship, which would be Johnson’s record-tying seventh if he won.

If that happened, the all-time championship leaders would be Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Johnson.

But that’s still a long way from being decided. In the meantime, Johnson became a winner at Martinsville for the ninth time — tying Jeff Gordon, who was running perhaps his final race on Sunday.

Johnson’s victory was his fourth of the season and the 79th of his career. And it came on an unlikely day, thanks to some early troubles for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

Before the halfway point of the race, Johnson had contact with both Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola in separate incidents. He needed extended time on pit road to repair the damage and was stuck in the low-20s for a time.

Later, Johnson briefly lost fuel pressure before a pit stop and dropped a couple positions. But after NASCAR sorted through a confusing scoring situation, Johnson restarted fourth and quickly moved past Denny Hamlin for the lead with roughly 100 laps remaining.

CAUTION CONFUSION: A scoring snafu caused a lengthy caution during Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway.

Carl Edwards blew a tire in the middle of rare green-flag pit stops at the 0.526-mile track, which jumbled the running order and took awhile for NASCAR to sort out — nearly 30 laps of caution over 25 minutes.

Eventually, NASCAR figured out the lineup and the race restarted with 10 cars on the lead lap with just over 100 laps to go. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch held the front row with Hamlin taking the lead as the green flag dropped. Hamlin was eventually passed by Johnson, who nearly ran out of gas under caution but made it to pit road for service and lined up fourth for the restart.

Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck

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