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Hamlin wins third straight at Martinsville

Sunday, October 24, 2010 | 5:26 p.m. CDT; updated 5:34 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 24, 2010

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Denny Hamlin passed Kevin Harvick for the lead with 29 laps to go Sunday and won his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.

"I don't think I've ever closed that well, ever," Hamlin said in Victory Lane.

He became the first driver since Jimmie Johnson in 2007 to sweep both races on the shortest, tightest track in the series, and both he and Harvick closed the gap on Johnson in the points race with four races to go. Hamlin cut his 41-point deficit to six points, and Harvick is 62 behind.

The margin between the top two in the standings is the smallest with four races to go since the Chase for the Sprint Cup started in 2004.

Harvick finished third after Mark Martin passed him in the closing laps, but Harvick had his best showing in 19 career starts at the 0.526-mile oval; he'd never been better than seventh.

"Everybody said it was a two-horse race, and we were right there in the middle of it," Harvick said. He gained 15 points in the standings, with the series heading next to Talladega, where he won in the spring.

Johnson, the four-time defending champion, rallied to finish fifth, also finishing behind Kyle Busch.

The race had 15 cautions for 90 laps, but the final 98 were run under a green flag.

"That's exactly what we needed at the end," Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford, said.

The race seemed likely to be a battle between Johnson and Hamlin, who had combined to win the last eight races at Martinsville and began the day 1-2 in the point standings.

Instead of domination, 12 different drivers led, and there were 24 lead changes.

Jeff Burton led the most laps with 134, but faded at the finish and came in ninth.

Jeff Gordon had a rough day, seriously damaging his chance for a fifth championship. He entered fourth in points, 156 behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson, but was spun into the frontstretch wall by Kurt Busch after running in contention all race long.

Gordon wound up 20th and fell to fifth in the standings, 203 points behind Johnson.

Carl Edwards, the Columbia native, finished eighth and moved up one spot to sixth place in the Chase, 213 points behind Johnson.


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