Jimmie Johnson has staked his claim for the 2007 NASCAR Nextel Cup by triumphing for the first time at Texas Motor Speedway - his third straight success - to give his title challenge a real shot in the arm.

The reigning Nextel Cup king headed to the deep south state with two goals in mind - to capture his career-first victory at the track, and in so doing seize the Chase lead from Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Jeff Gordon, who he trailed by a scant nine points entering the meeting. Just 48 hours later - and in a similar fashion to his championship-making run twelve months earlier - it was mission accomplished on both fronts.

The California native's success was his ninth of the season, third consecutive victory and 32nd of his NASCAR Nextel Cup Series (NNCS) career, and it came at the end of a dramatic, late-race side-by-side duel with Matt Kenseth. In addition to the wins, three pole positions and 19 top-five finishes over the course of the 2007 campaign have enabled Johnson to assume a 30-point lead over Gordon - who could do no better then seventh in the Dickies 500 after starting second - into the final two races on the calendar.

"This is amazing," the 32-year-old enthused from victory lane afterwards. "We didn't have a great car at the start of the race, but we just kept working away at it until we got what we needed. At the end we were on pace with everybody's strategy and never really lost track position.

"We were able to battle Matt for the win and put on a hell of a show for the fans, just great hard racing. Really at the end it came down to a full-blown brawl with Matt, but I don't mean that in a bad way. There are only a handful of guys I would feel comfortable racing that hard with at the end and being in the position we're in. Matt certainly is one; I've had a lot of great racing with him over the years, and I think we both have respect for one another that we can get in there and do it all without running each other over.

"We both wanted that win really bad; I think it was evident from how close our cars were! It was a lot of fun, knowing I didn't have to worry about him putting me in a bad position because of the championship and he also knew I wouldn't come in there and take him out."

While acknowledging his thirst for victory in Texas, Johnson confessed it had crossed his mind to just back off and settle for second on more than one occasion, with one eye on the crown.

"At times I thought about the points," he agreed, "but I knew Jeff was getting better as the night went on and I knew I needed every point I could get and had to go for it. That's really the position I feel Jeff and I are both in for the remaining races - every spot counts and you've got to go for it.

"We've been on quite a roll here, and when you go to victory lane there's just a buzz that goes through all of Hendrick Motorsports and the #48 team. We have momentum going in our direction right now and I don't want this groove we are in to go anywhere, so hopefully we can keep things together and be the champion again this year. Regardless of what happens, Hendrick Motorsports is such a great organisation and has given us this opportunity.

"There are two races to go and 30 points can come and go pretty easily. It's not a big margin by any means, but it's better than being second. We have a lot of work ahead of us and are happy to be in a position to race for the championship. With good race tracks coming up for us, good race cars in the line-up and momentum from the victories, our guys are showing up hungry every week trying to get as many points as we can."

Crew chief Chad Knaus was similarly upbeat about the remaining two outings, but warned against over-complacency as the season reaches fever pitch in Phoenix and Florida later this month.

"It's a great thing," he enthused. "[Momentum] is a very powerful tool as long as you're able to keep it in check. It can just as much be an enemy as it can be an asset because you'll see guys go out there and they will start to gain momentum, get a little cocky, a little lax and make a mistake.

"Obviously with the way Jimmie has driven the last few weeks it helps, and I think our team does a good job of taking momentum and turning it into a good thing and using it almost like an energiser."

Team owner Rick Hendrick also admitted there had been times during the race when he had considered telling his charge to back out of the heat of battle, so as not to risk jeapordising his championship ambitions with any kind of risky move.

"I was thinking 'we've got an awful lot at stake here and Jeff was running seventh, we don't need to do this'," Hendrick conceded, "but I felt like Jimmie was under control.

"I think if you ask other drivers in our camp, they will tell you he's a student of the sport; I love to listen to him break the corner down in five sections and when he's running 190mph talk about how the car lands. It's phenomenal, you have no idea, and we're very fortunate. Jimmie just gets better and better."

What's more, Johnson's victory was also the 25th win of the season for Chevrolet, tying the all-time record set by the Bowtie Brand back in 1958.

"This has been an incredible and exciting year for Chevrolet in NASCAR Nextel Cup competition," commented Alba Colon, NNCS programme manager for GM Racing. "To score 25 wins in one season is a mark that we at GM Racing and Chevrolet could only have hoped to achieve.

"We are proud of each of our teams and drivers for their efforts this season to achieve this monumental feat. Competition in the NNCS is at an all-time high, and we know the bar will continue to rise.

"Hendrick Motorsports is having an awesome year with 17 wins to-date. Congratulations to Jimmie, Chad and everyone associated with the #48 team for their victory at Texas, and for the nine wins they have scored so far this season."


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