14 March 2005
Johnson's Vegas jackpot.
Friday's Bud Pole winner Newman seemed the man most likely to mount a late charge on Johnson, the #12 Penske Racing Dodge driver leading more than 40 laps during the mid and late portion of the race. However after several late skirmishes with Jeff Gordon, Newman slid down the order in the closing laps.
Newman's turn one tangle with Gordon with a little over 30 laps remaining gifted second spot to the younger of the two Busch brothers, who gladly accepted his best career Nextel Cup to date after a strong, mature run all day.
Although the younger Busch didn't lead a lap, he did more than enough to hold off older brother and defending Nextel Cup Champion Kurt, who was also able to sneak underneath the squabbling Newman and Gordon.
Gordon, who eventually got the better of his foe, not before a slight love tap of reciprocation, fought back to take fifth place on a day where he could easily have played his part in a Hendrick 1-2-3.
Sixth across the line was Kevin Harvick, the driver of the #29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet going some way towards redeeming his team following their fuel cell issues in qualifying that resulted in Harvick starting from the back of the field.
Fontana winner Greg Biffle outpaced poleman Newman to lead lap one and was amongst the leaders for much of the day but could do no better than sixth at the end, heading Casey Mears, defending Las Vegas winner Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and a grip-less Newman home.
Outside of the top ten, Bobby Hamilton Jr put in his best showing since taking the wheel of the #32 PPI Motorsport Chevrolet to finish eleventh while Joe Nemechek, rookie Travis Kvapil and Elliott Sadler all ran in the top ten until a wrong air pressure adjustment (or a faulty jack in Nemechek's case) dropped them down the order at the end. Nemechek finished 19th, Kvapil 26th after leading nine laps and Sadler 29th after fighting back from a spin and the loss of a lap.
Dale Earnhardt Jr's legion of fans were to be disappointed early, as their man punted Brain Vickers into a race ending spin on lap 12, leaving him 42nd. Also falling foul of the concrete were Bobby Labonte (in the aftermath of the Earnhardt/Vickers tangle), Kasey Kahne, Hermie Sadler, Sterling Marlin and Ken Schrader, although the latter two were able to continue.
In the points table, Johnson's win, combined with a second place showing in Fontana, hoists him 15 points clear of Kurt Busch with Greg Biffle now the only other driver within 100 points of the leader.
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