Johnson leads Hendrick parade

Dominant team goes 1-2 in Richmond race

Auto racing

May 07, 2007|By Ed Hinton

RICHMOND, Va. -- The quest to rename the Car of Tomorrow is over. Just call it the Car of Hendrick.

While you're at it, rename the Nextel Cup series the Hendrick Racing League. No other NASCAR teams are in it.

It was Jimmie Johnson's turn to lead the league of its own yesterday.

He held off teammate Kyle Busch and swept to a series-leading fourth win of a season in which Hendrick Motorsports has now won eight straight - and all four events run thus far with NASCAR's new Car of Tomorrow design.

It's to the point that other teams just run around in circles, dancing in a thunderous chorus line of futility.

Take yesterday's race at Richmond International Raceway. It was officially the Jim Stewart 400, named for a race fan who won a Crown Royal whiskey contest.

But from the green flag on in the fourth race for the Car of Tomorrow, it was clear to the 80,000 or so fans who returned from Saturday night's rainout that this was going to be another Hendrick parade.

It was only a matter of which Car of Hendrick would win.

"It's tough," said Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin, who struck a meager blow for NASCAR normalcy by breaking up what almost was a 1-2-3 Hendrick finish. "I'm looking out my windshield, and I see all the Hendrick drivers ... and me."

Hamlin edged Hendrick's Jeff Gordon, who'd started on the pole, for third. Gordon's car faded late after he'd dominated the early going. He still wound up leading the most laps, 114 of the 400.

"I think we put on good races," Johnson pleaded when pressed as to whether the Hendrick domination might deflate TV ratings and general interest in NASCAR. "We're racing hard for the victory, even among our teammates."

The intra-Hendrick competition is indeed interesting. Johnson and Busch traded the lead four times in the last 105 laps and had some side-by-side duels until Johnson took command with 19 laps to go.

Last week, Johnson finished second to Gordon in a restrictor-plate race - a whole other animal from COT racing - at Talladega, Ala. That win was Gordon's second straight, coming off a COT race at Phoenix.

"I hope it's my turn," Johnson had said going into yesterday. And it was.

Hamlin felt his Gibbs Chevrolet was capable of catching the Hendrick cars if he hadn't run out of laps. But he'd gotten shuffled back on a cycle of green-flag pit stops in mid-race, and just had to come from too far back.

"We had a winning car there at the end; we just didn't have track position," Hamlin said.

Ed Hinton writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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