Jimmie Johnson admitted being well and truly beaten at his favorite track by Denny Hamlin, but was still pleased to stretch his lead in the point standings following a second-place finish at Martinsville.
The triple champion looked in control during the first half of the race, but could not match Hamlin's long-run pace and lost the lead for good on lap 363 out of 500. Despite losing out to the Joe Gibbs Toyota driver, Johnson was happy to get a points-paying second place, as he reckoned he did not have the pace to win. The result allowed him to increase his series lead by 28 points over his Hendrick Chevrolet teammate Mark Martin in the standings.
"It went well for us," said Johnson. "At times I had a really fast car – the last run, too. At the end, the 11 [Hamlin] had its stuff right. I was just a little too loose to do anything with him. In the long haul, we were probably the second-best car on the last two or three stops and finished where we should have, so I'm happy with that.
"I was nervous with those restarts at the end. I hoped that I might have a chance to get by Denny, but at the same time, being stuck in that outside lane there was so much too lose. I was really nervous about just getting to the bottom and protecting the position I was in.
"All in all, a good day, and I wish we could have won, but we just didn't have anything for the 11 on that last run."
During the spring race at Martinsville, Johnson bumped Hamlin out of the lead to claim his sixth career win at the venue. The defending champion said he had a shot at replaying the same finish this time, but chose not to.
"I had one chance," he explained. "[Hamlin] caught the curb with about 40 [laps] to go and lost some drive off of Turn Two. I got inside of him, and thought, 'Man, I've seen this movie before.' I got inside of him and he came to block the position like he did in the spring, and I thought, 'Man!' I didn't try to hit him last time here, and this time he was coming again.
"I wasn't in there far enough to stay in there like I did in the spring, so I backed out of it, and I think I actually hit the curb and screwed up my line and all that kind of thing. That was my one chance. After that, I could match his laps, but he would just start inching away from me and had the best car there at the end. If I had a chance to pass him and to get to his bumper and work him over, I would have.
"But I wasn't just going to come in with the second-placed car and take a cheap shot and pass him that way. If I felt like I had a car to win the race, I would have been up there leaning on him some."