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Johnson takes Atlanta Cup win

Jimmie Johnson is now only nine points behind Chase leader Jeff Gordon after scoring his eighth win of the season in an eventful finish of the Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The reigning Nextel Cup champion and his crew chief Chad Knaus gambled on taking only two new tyres in his last pitstop six laps from the end, while most of his rivals went for four.

He was second on the penultimate restart behind Denny Hamlin, but the Gibbs driver who had not pitted, ran out of fuel when the green flag waved, handing the lead to Johnson.

A green-white-chequer finished was expected and Johnson had a great restart pulling away from Carl Edwards, but getting into turn three Dale Earnhardt Jr lost its left rear wheel and went into the wall hard, taking Jamie McMurray with him.

The wreck meant the race finished under caution, giving Johnson his second win in as many weeks and his second of the season at Atlanta.

"We were running in the top-five thinking maybe of a fourth or third place finish," said Johnson who led only since the last restart.

"With the pit strategy at the end Chad made the call and the cautions kind of worked in our favour there and we were able to capitalize on the good pit call."

"It's going to be a shootout to the end for the title. We will just keep putting the pressure on. Now we're within striking distance and we'll see what happens."

Carl Edwards was second taking two tyres on his final stop as well but being denied a shot at Johnson when the yellow flags came out on the penultimate lap.

However he still scored a second place finish which moves him up to fourth in the Chase, putting his feud with teammate Matt Kenseth in the shadow for now.

"I would've loved to have a shot at Jimmie," Edwards said. "I think it would've been a great race with him. I think the 8 car (Earnhardt) and the 48 car (Johnson) were both really fast. We were going to be pretty good on two tyres. Matt (Kenseth) had four tyres so it was going to be one heck of a finish."

Ganassi's Reed Sorenson finished third, picking up two places in the final laps as he was running behind Earnhardt Jr and McMurray when they crashed. His result at Atlanta is his best ever in a Nextel Cup race.

Matt Kenseth and Jeff Burton rounded up the top five, while Clint Bowyer was sixth ahead of points' leader Jeff Gordon, who was never in real contention for victory but still scored his 27th top-ten finish of the season. With only three laps remaining now, every single point could make the difference in his title with Johnson.

"We made a great comeback," said Gordon. "We were coming and I actually had my nose underneath the 48 (Johnson) a couple of times there on that long run and then I started to get real tight and I thought we were going to blow a tyre.

"If we had about five green laps left there at the end, that would've been the way to go. We would've really gained some positions but unfortunately that's not the way it worked out. I'm just happy that I still have the (points) lead"

Kurt Busch finished eight after leading for 98 laps, while his brother Kyle lost the lead in his final pitstop and then spun while trying to avoid crashing on the penultimate restart when Hamlin ran out of fuel while leading the pack.

However, the real victim of the whole pile up on that restart was Martin Truex Jr. The DEI driver led more than anyone else, completing 135 laps up front. He was running second to Kyle Busch when he pitted for the last time but had a long stop as well and then crashed hard into Hamlin's almost stationary car on the restart.

Tony Stewart had a horrible day despite moving into the top ten from 30th on the grid already by lap 40. He later pitted out of sequence to fix a very loose car and went a lap down from where he never recovered. He finished down in 30th and has dropped to fifth in the Chase, more than three hundred points off from Gordon.

The race saw a record 14 caution periods, the first of them caused by a blown tyre on Juan Pablo Montoya's car, which was followed by a flat one 24 laps later.

Tyre issues caused at least four of the day's cautions, the last of those on Johnny Sauter's car. His incident allowed most of the front-runners to pit under caution as before that, the race was starting to turn into a fuel-economy contest.

Nextel Cup teams will stay at Atlanta for Monday and Tuesday testing their Cars of Tomorrow for the first time on a 1.5-mile oval. Some teams like Hendrick Motorsport. Joe Gibbs and Chip Ganassi Racing, will also test for the first time their new drivers for 2008.

Next weekend the Chase for the Nextel Cup goes to Texas Motor

Pos  Driver              Make        Laps
 1.  Jimmie Johnson      Chevrolet   329
 2.  Carl Edwards        Ford        329
 3.  Reed Sorenson       Dodge       329
 4.  Matt Kenseth        Ford        329
 5.  Jeff Burton         Chevrolet   329
 6.  Clint Bowyer        Chevrolet   329
 7.  Jeff Gordon         Chevrolet   329
 8.  Kurt Busch          Dodge       329
 9.  Kasey Kahne         Dodge       329
10.  Brian Vickers       Toyota      329
11.  Michael Waltrip     Toyota      329
12.  Casey Mears         Chevrolet   329
13.  Kyle Petty          Dodge       329
14.  Elliott Sadler      Dodge       329
15.  Kevin Harvick       Chevrolet   329
16.  AJ Allmendinger     Toyota      329
17.  Ricky Rudd          Ford        329
18.  Bill Elliott        Ford        329
19.  Dale Jarrett        Toyota      329
20.  Kyle Busch          Chevrolet   329
21.  Robby Gordon        Ford        328
22.  Greg Biffle         Ford        328
23.  Tony Raines         Chevrolet   328
24.  Denny Hamlin        Chevrolet   328
25.  Dale Earnhardt Jr   Chevrolet   327
26.  Jamie McMurray      Ford        327
27.  Paul Menard         Chevrolet   327
28.  John Andretti       Dodge       327
29.  Scott Riggs         Dodge       327
30.  Tony Stewart        Chevrolet   323
31.  Martin Truex Jr     Chevrolet   322
32.  Johnny Sauter       Chevrolet   321
33.  David Ragan         Ford        320
34.  Juan Montoya        Dodge       283
35.  JJ Yeley            Chevrolet   275
36.  Joe Nemechek        Chevrolet   268
37.  Ryan Newman         Dodge       267
38.  Dave Blaney         Toyota      263
39.  David Stremme       Dodge       250
40.  Jeremy Mayfield     Chevrolet   250
41.  Bobby Labonte       Dodge       238
42.  David Gilliland     Ford         64
43.  Mark Martin         Chevrolet    64
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