Win-win situation

Jimmie Johnson jumps to Nextel Cup points lead with his victory at Dover

teammate Kyle Busch shows patience, winds up second in overtime finish

Nextel Cup

September 26, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,sun reporter

DOVER, DEL. — Nextel Cup driver Jimmie Johnson hadn't seen Victory Lane in 16 races. And yesterday, when it was just about in sight, he looked in his rearview mirror and saw his young, eager teammate Kyle Busch.

Johnson would, eventually, win the race in overtime, beating Busch to the finish by 0.080 of a second in the MBNA RacePoints 400, but it wasn't the easy kind of victory he might have expected had this been a race in the good old days of just 10 or so years ago.

In those days, there would have been no doubt. The veteran would be in charge. The rookie would know his place. But these days in Nextel Cup racing the rookie's car is often as good or better than the veteran's, and as the younger drivers see it, the track is an open highway.

On two restarts over the final 15 laps - that stretched the 400-mile race to 404 and a green-white-checkered flag finish - Busch, in his No. 5 Chevrolet, did all he could do to win, stopping just short of knocking Johnson's No. 48 Chevy off the one-mile oval at Dover International Speedway.

"I know Jimmie is a Chase factor but it doesn't much matter to me," said the 20-year-old Busch. "I'm trying to race as hard as I can to win. Jimmie, I could see he was getting just a little bit loose because I was trying to make him loose and we were having to pedal [hit the brakes] a little bit. I didn't want to wreck him or anything, because that wouldn't be quite the right thing to do. Still, I was trying to make him loose with the hope he would move up the track just enough for me to squeeze by."

It was an exhibition of what might be called spunk or gall or impudence. It came a week after Busch and several other Cup drivers had been called on the carpet for rough driving, retaliation and actions unbecoming to stock car racing. They'd been fined thousands of dollars and docked valuable points as NASCAR officials tried to restore order in a sport that looked to be drowning in mayhem.

And, it came only hours after NASCAR president Mike Helton had said enough is enough and calmly read the rule book at the pre-race drivers' meeting, promising that NASCAR would tolerate no more such actions and would do what it needed to to stop it.

In the end, nothing bad happened.

Busch pushed the envelope, but stopped short of spilling its contents.

Johnson won for the first time since the Coca-Cola 600, May 29, at Lowe's Motor Speedway and leapt from sixth place to the points lead in The Chase for the Championship, the first time he had led in points since the week of July 24.

Johnson and Busch were followed across the finish line by Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and pole-sitter Ryan Newman. Martin's was the only one of the five cars owned by Jack Roush in the Chase to make it to the finish without a problem

The overall results shook up The Chase standings. Only Newman's and Kurt Busch's positions remained unchanged. Newman still stands third - 12 points behind Johnson and five behind Wallace - while Busch remained 10th and sank 170 points behind the new leader.

"It's going to be like this in a 10-race battle," Johnson said. "You've got to believe that anybody is a threat. We've had some guys have some bad luck and slip back some. If anybody can make it clean - I don't know who it will be. I hope it's us - but if anybody can make it to the finish and not have a DNF and not finish in the 30s, they'll probably be the champion."

Tony Stewart, who had been riding a hot streak and leading the points since ripping off five victories in seven weeks in July and August, slipped to fifth after finishing 18th.

Had things gone slightly differently in those closing laps with Kyle Busch, Johnson might still be looking for his third win of the season.

"Well, what he [Kyle Busch] gave me was all you can ask," said Johnson, after averaging 115.054 mph to win in 3 hours, 30 minutes, 41 seconds. "He gave me just enough room to race. You know, everybody gets aggressive at times. I felt comfortable leading the race, knowing my teammate was back there. ... My perspective was just to stay up front and do my job. I didn't have any concerns over any aggressive driving."

But perhaps Johnson didn't know how close winning and losing were. On the next to last restart with 11 laps to go in regulation, Busch got a quicker start than Johnson and dipped to the inside. It was only a split-second decision that prevented a crash.

"There was a bunch of trash and dirt and stuff down [low] in the bottom groove," Busch said. "I knew if I got down there, and actually got beside him, it wasn't going to be a pretty sight. So I just fell back into line."

A week ago, Johnson's crew chief, Chad Knaus, had come on the radio during the race in New Hampshire and told his driver to look out for Busch, "He's driving like a wild man," Knaus said on the radio.

Yesterday, there was no such communication, and Johnson and Knaus only had kind words for their teammate and his crew.

"We didn't have any current information of setups for this track," Johnson said. "The No. 5 team came here a couple weeks ago and tested and then they gave us everything they learned. They helped the whole organization by coming here and making that test, and we were able to come back here and make it work."

Nextel Cup

Points leaders

Driver (Previous pos.) Points

1. Jimmie Johnson (6) 5,362

2. Rusty Wallace (4) 5,355

3. Ryan Newman (3) 5,350

4. Mark Martin (7) 5,341

5. Tony Stewart (1) 5,339

6. Greg Biffle (2) 5,339

7. Jeremy Mayfield (8) 5,281

8. Carl Edwards (9) 5,259

9. Matt Kenseth (5) 5,238

10. Kurt Busch (10) 5,192

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