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.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”