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CUP: Johnson Notches Win No. 50

Jimmie Johnson raced into historic territory Sunday, scoring the 50th Sprint Cup victory of his driving career by charging to the front late to win the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

PHOTOS: Bristol Sprint Cup Race 0310

LINK > UNOFFICIAL RESULTS: Food City 500 - BRISTOL

Johnson led the final six laps after taking the lead from Tony Stewart.

The final 10 laps of the race were run under green. During the last caution period, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Stewart pitted for two tires; Kurt Busch and Johnson took four.

The four-tire cars were clearly stronger. Johnson sprinted from sixth to first in only three laps and beat Stewart to the finish by .895 of a second.

“We have worked so hard for this,” Johnson, a winner at BMS for the first time, said in victory lane. “I thought we were in trouble. But the four tires were everything.”

The failure to win was especially painful for Busch, who finished third. He led 278 laps. On the final restart, he was bottled up behind two-tire traffic and didn’t get a shot to challenge for first.

“We were solid all day,” Busch said. “We just got beat by the luck of the draw on the restarts. It’s luck on which lane is going to go. I thought we had them beat. I’d rather lose to any of the other 41 teams but that 48 team.

“I feel exhausted. I feel disappointed.”

With the win, his third in five races this season, Johnson tied retired drivers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett at 50 career wins. They are at 10th on the all-time list.

Busch had a one-second lead over Johnson with 18 laps to go when debris in the fourth turn caused the race’s last caution, putting teams in the difficult position of deciding between two tires and four.

Clouds framed the racetrack virtually all day, and brief rain showers forced a pair of caution flags.

A green flag on lap 412 (of 500) ended the second rain caution and produced a brief battle for the lead between Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski and Busch.

The race stage was scrambled on lap 343 when contact between former teammates Greg Biffle and Mark Martin sparked a 13-car wreck in turn three.

Racing in the top five, Martin tapped Biffle, causing both cars to slow. That created an accordion effect behind them – not unusual at Bristol, and several other lead-group cars piled into the melee. Among those impacted were Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya and Edwards.

The contact ruined a strong performance by Martin, who later returned to the track 91 laps down.

Montoya’s car had been particularly strong all afternoon, and he appeared to be on his way to challenging for his first NASCAR oval-track victory. Instead, he limped around in mid-pack with right-front damage and finished 26th.

The race was pockmarked by blown tires and pit-road speeding penalties.

Among those caught speeding was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was dropped from the top five to the rear of the field after the seventh caution. It was perhaps a positive penalty for Earnhardt Jr., however, who possibly would have been a part of the 13-car wreck on lap 343 if he had been close to the front. He finished seventh.

The race, the fifth of the Sprint Cup season, developed in front of a crowd estimated at 120,000, the first time in 56 races BMS has failed to produce a sellout.

PHOTOS: Bristol Sprint Cup Race 0310

LINK > UNOFFICIAL RESULTS: Food City 500 - BRISTOL

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEEDtv.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.