Martinsville, Va. — Denny Hamlin figured if he was going to make a run at Jimmie Johnson’s points lead, there was no better place to start than Martinsville Speedway.
Hamlin passed Kevin Harvick for the lead with 29 laps to go Sunday and earned his third consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at the smallest circuit in the series.
“I don’t think I’ve ever closed that well, ever,” Hamlin said after his 15th career victory, his series-best seventh this year and his fourth at Martinsville.
He didn’t view the race as a must-win, but rather “must finish in front of,” he said.
And the victory came after a miserable start. Determined to outqualify Johnson and get the sometimes critical first pit stall, Hamlin won the pole for just the second time this season. Johnson qualified 19th, and Harvick 36th.
But once the race began, Hamlin went backward. By the first caution and restart about 50 laps in, he was behind both of them. Johnson was eighth, Harvick ninth and Hamlin 12th.
“I was very worried,” he said. “Everyone saw how far back we were dropping, and I thought it was the end of our day. We kept fighting, kept digging, kept making up spots.”
Hamlin became the first driver since Johnson in 2007 to sweep both races here, and he and Harvick closed the gap on Johnson in the points race with four events to go.
Auburn jumps to No. 3 in AP poll
New York — The other team from Alabama surged toward the top of the AP poll while another set of Tigers has emerged as the Big 12’s unexpected national title contender.
Auburn jumped two spots to No. 3 behind top-ranked Oregon and Boise State in the media poll Sunday, and Missouri vaulted 11 spots to No. 7.
Oregon, which moved to No. 1 for the first time last week and followed up with a 60-13 victory against UCLA on Thursday night, received 44 first-place votes. Boise State had 11, Auburn received three and No. 4 TCU received two.
Byrd wins playoff ... with hole-in-1
Las Vegas — In a stunning finish in Las Vegas, Jonathan Byrd won a three-man playoff with a hole-in-one on the fourth extra hole.
Byrd, Martin Laird and Cameron Percy debated whether to keep playing the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital for Children Open because of darkness. They all decided to go one more hole Sunday — the 204-yard 17th at TPC Summerlin.
Couples cruises at Administaff
The Woodlands, Texas — Fred Couples left everybody else way behind in the Administaff Small Business Classic, shooting a 9-under 63 on Sunday for a seven-stroke victory.
Manassero the youngest winner
Castellon, Spain — Matteo Manassero of Italy became the youngest winner on the European Tour on Sunday, shooting a 4-under 67 to claim the Castello Masters by four strokes.
Kang holds off Inkster by 1
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Jimin Kang won the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia for her second LPGA Tour title, beating Juli Inkster by a stroke Sunday when the 50-year-old Hall of Famer bogeyed the final hole.
Mathis nabs Nationwide victory
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. — David Mathis closed with a 1-under 69 on Sunday to win the Jacksonville Open on the Nationwide Tour.
Federer tops Mayer, ties record
Stockholm — Roger Federer beat Germany’s Florian Mayer 6-4, 6-3 to win the Stockholm Open on Sunday and match Pete Sampras’ total of 64 career titles.
Xavier’s Redford tears knee
Cincinnati — Xavier’s Brad Redford has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, costing the Musketeers their top three-point shooter.
The junior guard hurt his knee during practice on Saturday. A medical test on Sunday found the tear, which will need reconstructive surgery and sideline him for the season.
Favre admits leaving voicemails
New York — Brett Favre reportedly admitted leaving voicemails for the former New York Jets game hostess to whom a website says he also sent lewd photos.
Fox television’s Jay Glazer reported Sunday that Favre told league investigators earlier this week he left phone messages for Jenn Sterger, who worked for the Jets in 2008 when Favre was their quarterback.
Glazer also reported that Favre denied sending Sterger inappropriate photos.
Vick to start again for Eagles
Nashville, Tenn. — Philadelphia coach Andy Reid is switching quarterbacks again and says Michael Vick will start Nov. 7 against Indianapolis in the Eagles’ next game after their bye week.
Tampa Bay TE arrested, sits out
Tampa, Fla. — Tampa Bay tight end Jerramy Stevens sat out Sunday’s game against St. Louis after police said he was arrested and charged with possessing marijuana. Stevens was pulled over in his Ford pickup truck on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. for loud music, Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said.