Johnson takes Atlanta Cup win
|By Diego Mejia||Monday, October 29th 2007, 00:46 GMT|
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