By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
“They touch once! Twice! Drag race! Jimmie Johnson!”
When looking back at memorable moments at Martinsville Speedway, the duel between Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon in the spring of 2007 is often near the top of the list.
The race, which featured the much maligned Car of Tomorrow in only its second outing, would turn into a Chevrolet showcase with the four drivers that dominated the race all driving a car with a bowtie on the grill. Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Denny Hamlin, along with Johnson and Gordon would combine to lead 467 of 500 laps, but it was the Hendrick teammates that stole the show late in the going.
After taking the lead from Kyle Busch with 113 laps to go, Johnson settled into the top spot and looked to be well on his way to his third win on the half-mile track, but Gordon wasn’t going to let it be an easy Sunday drive for his young protégé.
Stalking Johnson over the final 50 laps, Gordon applied the bumper to Johnson several times in the closing circuits, but cranked up the intensity after the final restart on lap 483, making his presence known in Johnson’s rear-view mirror for the final charge to the finish.
With only a few laps to go, Gordon began to make his move, using the same bump and run technique that he had used with much success to win other races in his career. However, the new COT chassis and the bumpers being lined up just made the hits square on Johnson’s rear bumper instead of moving him up the track as it would have done in past years.
Nonetheless, Gordon gave it all he had, pulling up alongside Johnson in Turn 3 and 4 after a hard shot to his bumper on the last lap, turning the final straightaway into a drag race to see who could get to the finish line first, bouncing off of each other the entire way.
In the end, Johnson would hold off Gordon by just a fender, finishing 0.065 seconds ahead to take his third win in the first five races of the 2007 season.
Hamlin finished third for Joe Gibbs Racing, with another Hendrick driver, Kyle Busch, finishing fourth, and Earnhardt finishing fifth after leading the most laps in the race.
“I’m speechless,” said Johnson. “I’ve looked up to him (Gordon) my whole career before I was even back here racing. Looked up to him and knew how good he was at Martinsville and just wanted to be on the same page with him here. To have a duel like that at the end, that was probably the hardest driving I’ve ever done. And then to have my bumper beat off by my teammate in a way that didn’t jeopardize either one of us was really a class act by Jeff. Just great preparation from this race team to give us two cars to go out there and fight for the win like this.”
Meanwhile, it was a bittersweet finish for Gordon, who was happy that Hendrick Motorsports came away with the win, but disappointed that it wasn’t him ending the day in victory lane.
“That was an awesome race,” said Gordon. “We had an awesome car, the DuPont Impala. The only way I could get by him was to wreck him. He’s my teammate and I tell you what, it’s going to be some interesting racing going forward because he blocked me really bad. I thought I had a chance at him a couple of times, but he shut the door pretty good.
“Like I said, I’m not going to wreck a guy to win a race. I tried to move him, but with these cars it’s tough to do. He did exactly what he should have done. I’m happy for Jimmie, happy for Hendrick that they won the race, but I’m really disappointed that we didn’t because I felt like we should have.”