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Johnson rocks and rolls right to the Chase

Two-time defending NASCAR champion wins at Richmond for his second consecutive victory and his fourth overall this season.

September 08, 2008|From the Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. -- Jimmie Johnson has momentum on his side and history in sight.

Never mind that Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards dominated the regular season, the Chase is Johnson's time of the year and the two-time defending NASCAR champion isn't turning his title over without a fight.

He won the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 on Sunday at Richmond International Raceway to grab his second consecutive win, fourth overall this season, to take a big boost into the Chase for the championship. Johnson is trying to become the first driver to win three straight titles since Cale Yarborough (1976-78).

"I do think about it," admitted Johnson, "but the less I think about it, the better I'm going to be. The less I can think about all this stuff the last 10 races, the better I am going to be. I just need to fall back to the confidence I have in my race team and my abilities.

"If you show up and you're swinging for the fences every time, you're going to make mistakes."

Johnson hasn't of late, chasing down Busch and Edwards to arguably claim the role of championship favorite.

Busch, winner of eight Cup wins this season, is top seeded in the Chase. Edwards is second based on his six victories and Johnson is third. They are the only three drivers in the field with multiple wins, and five of the contenders start the Chase winless this season.

Edwards, however, believes all 12 drivers will have a shot at the title when the 10-race Chase begins Sunday in New Hampshire.

"Anything can happen," he said. "I think it's going to be defined by your bad days."

David Ragan and Kasey Kahne were the only two drivers mathematically eligible to race their way into the Chase field. Ragan put on a gutsy push before contact with other cars ended his run with a 32nd-place finish.

"Regardless of how we ended today, I told everyone before the race whether we made the Chase or not, it wasn't going to be solely on the Richmond race," Ragan said. "I can look back at three or four races earlier in the year where we didn't do a good job and resulted in the loss of a few points."

Kahne finished 19th, giving the final Chase spot to Clint Bowyer.

"I drove everything I could all day," Kahne said. "It was a long day in the pits -- we came out close to last almost every time. But we were never going to beat Clint."

The Chase field, according to seeding, is Busch, Edwards, Johnson, Earnhardt, Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth.

Busch had a rough day at Richmond in his final tuneup for his title run, starting with a wreck with Earnhardt that delighted the crowd. It was a reverse of the May race here, when Busch wrecked Earnhardt when Earnhardt was leading.

Earnhardt said Sunday's contact wasn't deliberate or retribution.

"If I wreck somebody, I ain't going to leave him in good enough shape to come back and get me in the same race," Earnhardt said.

"I really ain't never wrecked anybody on purpose. If I wanted to do it, I would do it really, really good."

Busch, who was later wrecked by Elliott Sadler, finished 15th and downplayed the Earnhardt incident.

"Was that revenge? Who knows," he said.

Edwards also had a long day after an early tire problem relegated him to the pack. He finished 13th.

Johnson, meanwhile, was steady all day and eventually passed Stewart and Martin Truex for the lead with 34 laps to go. He then had to hold off Stewart's late challenge over the final 10 laps.

Stewart, along with Gordon, is one of the winless drivers headed into the Chase and neither has gone this deep into a season without a victory.


Edwards won for the fourth time this season in the Nationwide Series and cut slightly into Bowyer's prohibitive points lead by passing Bowyer for the lead with 28 laps to go then pulling away through three restarts the rest of the way.

The last restart came with eight laps to go and teammates Scott Wimmer and Bowyer separating Edwards from the fast car of Hamlin, but Edwards easily pulled away.

Wimmer finished second, Bowyer third and Hamlin was fourth, and Edwards, despite having driven 400 laps in sunshine and 250 more at night, did his traditional back flip to celebrate.




*--* Driver Points Behind 1. Kyle Busch 5,080 -- 2. Carl Edwards 5,050 30 3. Jimmie Johnson 5,040 40 4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 5,010 70 5. Clint Bowyer 5,010 70 6. Denny Hamlin 5,010 70 7. Jeff Burton 5,010 70 8. Tony Stewart 5,000 80 9. Greg Biffle 5,000 80 10. Jeff Gordon 5,000 80 11. Kevin Harvick 5,000 80 12. Matt Kenseth 5,000 80 *--*

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