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Johnson rolls to Vegas glory on four-tyre call

1 March 2010

Jimmie Johnson didn't need luck in Sin City – he was just that good when it counted in Sunday's Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to take his fourth victory at the 1.5-mile track.

A week after parlaying a lucky break on pit road at Fontana, California into his first win of the season, Johnson pulled away to beat Kevin Harvick by 1.874 seconds in Vegas. The El Cajon native's 49th career triumph leaves him alone in twelfth place on NASCAR's Sprint Cup list, one victory behind Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson.

“No luck involved in that one,” crew chief Chad Knaus radioed to Johnson after he had crossed the finish line at the end of the 400-mile event.

Well, not much anyway. Johnson took four tyres under caution at his final pit-stop on lap 230 of 267. Third-place finisher Jeff Gordon, who came to the pits as the leader, took two tyres, and that decision – on which both Gordon and crew chief Steve Letarte agreed – handed 'Superman' the winning edge.

On lap 234, Gordon – who led a race-high 219 laps – re-started second inside Clint Bowyer, who did not pit, with Johnson fourth on the outside of Harvick in third. Gordon and Johnson surged into the top two positions and rapidly pulled away.

“It was just a matter of time,” admitted Gordon, who watched helplessly on lap 251 as Johnson dived below him in Turn 3 and wrested the top position from his Hendrick Motorsports team-mate. Harvick, who also took two tyres on the final stop, passed Gordon for second on lap 264.

Hendrick driver Mark Martin finished fourth, and Matt Kenseth was fifth. Joey Logano, Tony Stewart, Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle rounded out the top ten.

“We certainly showed them that we were here,” Gordon said. “I think you're going to see a lot more out of us this year. It is disappointing. You can't even have one little blip with that No. 48 team – they are so strong.

“You give them four tyres like that against your two, and I knew we were just a sitting duck. I raced him as hard as I could as long as I could.”

The two-tyre decision weighed heavily on Gordon.

“Well, you know, if we'd won the race we'd look like geniuses, Steve would have. The fact that we lost the race, now Chad looks like a genius. That's how it goes sometimes. When you're leading, that's the toughest position to be in, to make that call.

“You know, I felt like we needed to come in and get some tyres, but I felt like two tyres was the right call, too. We just needed the 48 to take two. They did the opposite of us. That won the race for them.”

On equal tyres, Johnson had chased Gordon throughout the afternoon but without success. When rookie Kevin Conway slammed into the Turn 2 wall on lap 228 to bring out the seventh and final caution of the race, Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet was more than a second behind the No. 24 of his team-mate.

“Man, I did all I could for the three runs before that, and I had nothing for him,” Johnson reflected after jumping from twelfth to fifth in the Cup standings, 63 points off the lead now. “I could get close [and] then couldn't get the pass pulled off. We had a great race car all day long. I think he (Gordon) really showed the strength of the Hendrick cars when Jeff and I checked out from everyone. In the end, we had a car that was right on that last run.”

Harvick drove through the field after scraping the wall during Friday's first practice session and qualifying 34th.

“I just have to thank all my guys – they did a great job this weekend after crashing into the wall there at the beginning of practice and putting us behind for the start of the weekend,” praised the Richard Childress Racing ace, who retained the series points lead by 47 over team-mate Bowyer.

“We had a good enough car to come through the field, [but] just came up a little bit short again this week. Still, [it was] a good day for us. [We] led a lap and did what we had to do.”

Pole-sitter Kurt Busch was a casualty of a lap 93 crash involving Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team-mates Jamie McMurray and Juan-Pablo Montoya and finished 35th, eight laps down.


by Reid Spencer / Sporting News


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