Johnson dominates in Martinsville victory

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Jimmie Johnson led 346 laps en route to claiming his eighth career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at Martinsville Speedway this afternoon, re-taking the Cup championship lead in the process.

Johnson, now the winningest active driver at the famous “paperclip,” had to withstand one final restart with eight laps remaining but pulled away from Clint Bowyer and the rest of his rivals.

“I think the last stop or two, we really got our car adjusted right and got some clean air and track position, which was very important,” said Johnson, who now leads Brad Keselowski by six points as the series heads for Texas Motor Speedway. “…Just as the day wore on and we got to the end, they were flawless on pit road and I did my job on the race track to maintain track position, and we could control the race at that point.

“Being stuck on the outside lane on a restart would have been the death of whoever was out there. Fortunately, we had control of the race late and held off a lot of hard-charging guys.”

Bowyer’s runner-up was a hard-fought one, as he was one of multiple drivers caught in a wreck at Lap 180 that had a big impact on the race. Luckily for the Kansas native, his car had been fast throughout the weekend and when he needed to make up ground following the collision, it came through for him again.

Still, Bowyer wondered what could have been if he hadn’t been caught in the incident.

“It’s just disappointing. She was just tore up too bad,” Bowyer said to The Sporting News’ Jeff Owens. “We were lucky to get back up where we were.”

Jeff Gordon finished third for his best finish of 2013, while Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne finished fourth and fifth respectively.

As for Danica Patrick, she managed to finish a surprising 12th in her Martinsville debut — her best finish of the young season since her eighth-place outing at the Daytona 500. Patrick brought out the first yellow of the day with a spin at Lap 17 and fell two laps behind at one point, but was able to make them up by taking the wave-around on consecutive cautions.

F1 2017 driver review: Kimi Raikkonen

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Kimi Raikkonen

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 7
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 7
Best Finish: P2 (Monaco, Hungary)
Pole Positions: 1
Fastest Laps: 2
Points: 205
Laps Led: 40
Championship Position: 4th

While this may have statistically been Kimi Raikkonen’s best campaign since his first year back in F1 in 2012, there is a good case for it being one of his most disappointing to date.

Raikkonen’s continued role at Ferrari has been questioned on a number of occasions, but the Finn looked capable of answering his critics heading into 2017 after impressing through pre-season testing as he appeared to get to grips well with the new-style cars.

But we soon grew accustomed to the same old story: flashes of potential, but otherwise an underwhelming, unsatisfactory campaign that saw Raikkonen be dwarfed by his teammate, Sebastian Vettel.

Raikkonen’s charge to his first pole position for over eight years in Monaco gave hope of a popular win, only for Ferrari to play its strategy in favor of title contender Vettel – why wouldn’t the team do so? – to leave him a disgruntled second.

While Vettel was able to impress at the majority of circuits, Raikkonen only looked strong at tracks that were unquestionably ‘Ferrari’ tracks, such as Hungary and Brazil. Like Vettel, Raikkonen should have racked up a good haul of points in Singapore, only for the start-line crash to sideline both Ferraris before they even reached Turn 1.

Again there is the question of ‘what could have been?’ in Malaysia had it not been for the spark plug issue on the grid, yet in Japan, Raikkonen was nowhere, finishing behind the Mercedes and Red Bulls.

Finishing just five points clear of Daniel Ricciardo despite having a much faster car for the best part of the season and the Red Bull driver’s own reliability issues sums up the disappointment of Raikkonen’s campaign.

He should have been an ally for Vettel in the title race by nicking points of Lewis Hamilton, much as Valtteri Bottas was doing for his Mercedes teammate. Instead, Raikkonen seemed to be tagging along for the best part of this season.

Season High: Pole in Monaco, his first since the 2008 French Grand Prix.

Season Low: Finishing a distant P4 at Spa – a circuit he made his own in the 2000s.