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Oct 02, 2012 - 02:45 PM
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Team Tragedy Spoils Jimmie Johnson's First Win At Martinsville
Posted by: newsla on Oct 02, 2012 - 02:41 PM
Team Tragedy Spoils Jimmie Johnson's First Win At Martinsville

The date was Oct. 24, 2004.

Just as Jimmie Johnson came to a stop on the front stretch at Martinsville Speedway to celebrate his first-career victory at the famed Virginia track, he and his Hendrick Motorsports team learned a terrible tragedy had occurred.


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NOTE: TUMS is the sponsor of the TUMS Fast Relief 500, the seventh race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, at Martinsville Speedway on October 28.

There would be no traditional victory lane celebration. Instead, just somber tones and heavy hearts. Understandably, neither Johnson nor his Hendrick Motorsports teammates were available for the normal post-race interviews.

While en route to the .526-mile track earlier in the day, 10 people associated with the Charlotte, N.C.-based organization lost their lives when the private Beechcraft 200 plane on which they were traveling crashed into a mountain side some 10 miles from the speedway. There were no survivors.

Aboard the airplane were Ricky Hendrick, son of team owner Rick Hendrick, John Hendrick, Rick Hendricks’s brother, John’s twin daughters Kimberly and Jennifer Hendrick, Richard Tracy, the pilot, Liz Morrison, the co-pilot, Joe Johnson of team sponsor DuPont, Jeff Turner, general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, Randy Dorton, Hendrick Motorsports’ engine department director, and Scott Lathram, one of Tony Stewart’s helicopter pilots.

The 43 drivers were unaware of the tragedy during the 500-lap event. They battled for every inch of track position. At the race’s conclusion, it was Johnson who had mastered the flat paperclip layout to launch a winning dynasty at the Virginia short track.

The win moved Johnson from eighth to fourth in the Nextel Cup (now Sprint Cup) point standings behind Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Johnson started 18th, led 67 laps including the final 60. Busch finished fifth, Gordon ninth and Earnhardt 33rd.

Busch was the point leader going into the race and three top-10 finishes in the final four races propelled the Roush Racing driver to his first championship.

Johnson finished second in the point standings in 2004, eight points behind Busch. Johnson had a series-high eight wins and 20 top-five finishes. His Martinsville dominance had only begun and the Virginia short track would figure prominently in three of Johnson’s five consecutive Sprint Cup championships (2006-2010).

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