Monday Morning NASCAR recap: Jimmie Johnson dominates; Danica Patrick impresses

Sean Gardner

In winning Sunday’s NASCAR race, Jimmie Johnson steamrolled the field, while Danica Patrick turned heads with an impressive Martinsville debut.

From the moment Jimmie Johnson broke the track record in qualifying Friday to claim the pole for Sunday's race at Martinsville Speedway, there was a sense of inevitability in the air.

It almost seemed a given that the five-time NASCAR champion would somehow wind up in Victory Lane celebrating yet another win on the track he loves so much.

After all, Martinsville had always been a track where Johnson has dominated, with seven career victories, including a win from the pole last fall.

But there was something more than just sheer speed that tilted the odds in Johnson's favor.

As NASCAR has been consumed as of late about talk of rivalries, feuds, paybacks and what the line is between hard racing and dirty driving, Johnson -- as has been his habit throughout his career -- stayed above the fray.

He didn't take sides nor did he point fingers, he simply focused on the things he can control and went about executing them to the best of his ability.

And at Martinsville on Sunday, nobody executed better, as Johnson had the NASCAR equivalent of a no hitter.

Starting from the pole, Johnson wasted little time asserting himself as the dominant force, leading 207 of the first 221 laps. And although there were others who looked like contenders for the win, it was Johnson who prevailed in the end, leading a total of five times for 346 laps.

It was a virtually flawless race in every facet for the 48 team. And for Johnson, another hardnosed victory for a driver who makes it a point to avoid becoming immersed in petty squabbles with his competitors that more often than not simply serve as nothing more than a distraction.

That mindset was also noticeable in another way Sunday.

In a race that featured numerous crumpled fenders and ripped away bodywork, including the car of second-place finisher Clint Bowyer, Johnson's No. 48 machine had nary a scratch on it.

"Probably the most calm, relaxed thought‑out weekend that we've had as the 48, and mature weekend we've had," Johnson said following his 62nd Cup victory. "We really fell back on our experience and stayed committed to that.

"Just a very well executed weekend -- and clearly the race today -- by the whole 48 team."

More than anything, Martinsville represented another calculating drive from someone who knows all too well that the key to success is a singular focus on winning and nothing else.

No drama, just results.

Danica Patrick impressive in Martinsville debut

It wasn't a win. And no it wasn't an eighth-place finish like she posted in the Daytona 500.

But it might as well been, because what Danica Patrick did Sunday in rallying back from a two-lap deficit to finish 12th in her first ever race at Martinsville was quite an accomplishment.

"I got behind Danica, and I couldn't pass her," Bowyer said.

It seemed a given that Patrick would struggle; in fact, her car owner/teammate Tony Stewart joked a few weeks back about how funny it would be to see her try and get around the tight half-mile.

Martinsville isn't an easy track to navigate for a veteran driver, let alone a rookie who is still adjusting to running stock cars, especially a rookie who has finished no better than 26th in her last four races and showed nothing even resembling competitiveness.

But if there has been one constant trait Patrick has exhibited, whether it was when she was running IndyCar or now NASCAR, it has been the ability to answer her critics in resounding fashion by posting a result few saw coming.

In the weeks leading up to the start of the season, there were more questions about who Patrick was dating than questions about how she would perform on the track.

To her credit, Patrick never seemed bothered by the often TMZ nature of the questions she got and took everything in stride. And when Speedweeks commenced, she gave everyone something else to talk about as she became the first woman to win the pole for the 500, lead laps in the "Great American Race" and finish in the top 10.

Although Daytona and Martinsville may prove to be nothing more than blips in a year filled with disappointing results, Patrick can at least point to those events as proof that she can be competitive in NASCAR's top series.

Whether she can do so consistently is debate for another time. For now, Patrick deserves to bask in the glow of what she accomplished Sunday.

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