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Johnson Keeps Eye on $1 Million, Wins Race

May 18, 2003|From Staff and Wire Reports

Jimmie Johnson saved his best for last, trying only to win when the big money was on the line.

Johnson won NASCAR's all-star race Saturday night at Concord, N.C., by focusing only on the third and final segment of The Winston and its record $1-million first prize.

It avenged his disappointment from last year, when he won the first two segments at Lowe's Motor Speedway only to wind up fifth at the end of the night with just $100,000 in bonus money to show for it.

"Last year we thought we had it after the first two segments, but it didn't work out," Johnson said. "So this year we played our cards right and focused on the big prize."

Johnson took the lead away from his car owner and teammate Jeff Gordon five laps into the final 20-lap segment, then pulled away in the Chevrolet for an easy victory over Kurt Busch.

Johnson dominated the event as a rookie in the first two segments last year. But in a twist to the all-star event, the fans vote on how they want the field inverted for the final segment.

They always choose to invert the maximum 10 cars, and Johnson was shuffled to the back of the pack last year and wound up fifth at the end of the night.

So this year the end prize was all that mattered.

Johnson finished the second segment in seventh, and moved up to fourth on the inversion.

The inversion put Johnson right behind Gordon on the grid, and he followed his teammate past leader Sterling Marlin on the restart.

Then he set his sights on Gordon, and passed him four laps later. No one was catching Johnson from there.

Bobby Labonte finished third, and was followed by Johnson teammate Joe Nemechek and Michael Waltrip.

Busch, shuffled back to 10th on the inversion, passed nine cars over the final 20-lap segment to finish second.

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