MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Kurt Busch passed Martinsville master Jimmie Johnson for the lead with 10 laps to go Sunday and held off the eight-time winner to win at Martinsville Speedway for the first time since October 2002.
Johnson, with eight wins in 25 career starts on the 0.526-mile oval, led 11 times for 296 laps. He seemed on his way to another victory when he took the lead from Busch with 17 laps remaining. But Busch stayed close, ducked underneath Johnson seven laps later and Johnson never made a good run at the lead again.
“I didn’t know if we’d be able to do it, you know? The 48 car is king here, him or the 24,” Busch said in Victory Lane, referring to Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon, who also has eight Martinsville victories.
Busch’s 25th career victory ended a winless streak that had reached 83, and in the least likely of places.
“I’ve been on this journey for a while and every time you come to Martinsville, you just kind of draw a line through it like there’s no way I’ll be able to challenge those Hendrick guys or be up in the top 10,” Busch said.
“This Stewart-Hass team gave me a car to do it.”
It was Busch’s first victory in his first season driving for Stewart-Haas Racing in a car funded solely by Gene Haas, who hand-picked the 2004 series champion because he said he wanted to see a team win with his name on the car.
“It’s a dream come true to have Gene Haas call you and tell you he wants you to drive,” Busch said. “He wants to go for trophies and wins. It’s just an unbelievable feeling to deliver for Haas Automation.”
The race featured an event-record 33 lead changes, and Johnson expected there would be one more, but on a slippery day on the smallest circuit in NASCAR’s premier series, the cars at the end weren’t conducive to typical short-track racing.
“Man, we were so on edge slipping and sliding,” Johnson said about the final laps duel, during which there was very little of the beating and banging that usually typifies racing at Martinsville. “I think the lack of security in our own car kept us from feeling more racy and putting a bumper to someone or really getting inside someone aggressively.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third, followed by Joey Logano and Marcos Ambrose.