Updated: April 8, 2013, 1:16 PM ET

Jimmie Johnson Wins At Martinsville

Sprint Cup: Danica the big surprise at Martinsville

By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

Jimmie Johnson wins at Martinsville Speedway. No surprise to anyone.

After all the tough talk for two weeks, it was 500 laps with no real paybacks. A little surprising.

Danica Patrick finished 12th in her first Martinsville start. Absolutely astounding.

That about sums up Sunday's event on the historic Virginia short track.

Let's start with the shocker. For those not in the know, it may not sound like a big deal for a rookie to post a 12th-place finish. It is.

Danica Patrick
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesCup rookie Danica Patrick shook off an early spin to finish 12th Sunday at Martinsville.

In reality, it's probably Patrick's biggest achievement yet as a NASCAR driver, far bigger than winning the pole for the Daytona 500 and even bigger than finishing eighth in that race two months ago.

Martinsville eats rookies alive, and it's a devil of a chore for many veteran racers as well. But let's stick with rookie performances.

Johnson, who now has eight victories at Martinsville, finished 35th in his first start on the paper-clip-shaped oval. Kyle Busch finished 39th is his first attempt at Martinsville and brother Kurt finished 37th.

Patrick even outran a couple of former Cup champions. Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, who won seven times at Martinsville, finished 15th in his first start there. Dale Jarrett finished 14th.

Tony Stewart, Patrick's teammate and boss, finished 20th as a Martinsville rookie. He finished 17th on Sunday, being outrun by Patrick in the final laps.

"I didn't know what to expect," Patrick told a Fox TV reporter afterward. "All I knew was that it was going to be a little bit crazy. I felt like I made a lot of passes. I feel like I just passed all day, but I'm sure a lot of people do that on a short track. It was a nice day for us. We've had quite a few bad ones since Daytona, so we'll take this and get rolling."

Patrick had an early spin and was two laps down at one point, but fought her way back. Crew chief Tony Gibson said he never dreamed Patrick could finish as well as she did on such a difficult track.

Gibson was amazed at how well Patrick ran on restarts and how aggressively she raced in the final laps.

"It will help her gain some confidence," Gibson said. "To come out of this with her proving what she can do on these restarts, be more aggressive and do what these guys are doing. Hopefully, it will build some confidence that will help her down the road."

Patrick's aggressive driving was surprising, but the lack of aggression by some others also was a surprise.

Stewart's anger at Joey Logano from the blocking incident at Fontana didn't result in a payback move Sunday. Other than a bump here and there, nothing unusual at Martinsville, this race was relatively tame.

It ended the way so many others have in recent years, another Martinsville victory for Johnson. His eight wins are three short of Darrell Waltrip's 11 Martinsville victories and seven shy of Richard Petty's Martinsville record of 15 wins.

"I'm not surprised that he won the race," team owner Rick Hendrick said of the five-time champion. "But I'm surprised [Patrick] finished 11th."

Hendrick was one spot too generous, but it was the surprise of the day, if not the season.

Terry Blount

ESPN Staff Writer

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