The much-anticipated cataclysm did not occur.
Sprint Cup drivers raced 500 laps at Martinsville Speedway, and there were no revenge moves registered in the Tony Stewart-Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer-Jeff Gordon situations, and the day was not a disaster for race rookie Danica Patrick. In fact, quite the opposite, as Patrick finished a stunning 12th.
And, oh, by the way, Jimmie Johnson – surprise! – won the race. The victory gave Johnson the point lead and gave him eight wins – the most by any active driver – at Martinsville.
RESULTS: STP Gas Booster 500
STANDINGS: After STP Gas Booster 500
The race was largely under the control of three drivers – Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.
Johnson held the lead with 52 laps to go, although teammate Gordon was closing on him rapidly. The field went under caution at that point as Brian Vickers spun on the backstretch. All of the leaders pitted, and Brad Keselowski ran into trouble in his pit as NASCAR ruled that he was outside the box, forcing the team to push the car back into the legal again. The delay resulted in Keselowski sitting in 11th for the restart.
After the restart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun in the fourth turn after he, Patrick and Vickers tangled entering the turn. That sparked the 11th caution of the day and put Junior two laps down.
With 13 laps to go, the red flag was displayed for six minutes when Kurt Busch crashed in turn one and his car burst into flames. Busch escaped quickly, but NASCAR halted the race while track workers cleared the area of the crash.
Johnson rolled to the win without a serious challenge. Bowyer, Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch followed.
The race’s first major incident occurred on lap 180 following a restart. With the field bunched, Kahne slowed, sparking a chain-reaction wreck that spread through much of the field. Cars bumped each other as drivers reacted to the slowdown.
Among the cars damaged during the incident – Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Vickers, Marcos Ambrose and Bowyer.
A day that was expected to be a spotlighted one for Martin, who was subbing for injured Denny Hamlin, instead became a challenge.
He started 35th and advanced slowly into the mid-20s but didn’t seem to have the juice to advance. Then his route was made more difficult during a pit stop near the race’s halfway point when Martin tried to leave his pit early and the car fell on the loose left front wheel. That miscue extended the pit stop, and Martin also was penalized for pitting out of the team’s pit box. He lost a lap.
But Martin rallied over the closing 100 laps to finish 10th.
Patrick was involved in the day’s first caution as she spun between turns three and four after contact with Ken Schrader. She fell a lap down but later took the wave-around, returned to the lead lap and raced in the top 15 throughout the race’s final segment.
Ryan Newman, Patrick’s teammate, had a sour day. He experienced a flat tire late in the race and stopped on the track, prompting a caution. NASCAR penalized him three laps for intentionally causing a yellow flag.
Later, Newman had another flat tire. He finished 31st.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.