Johnson Edges Kenseth To Take NASCAR Race

Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick
Jimmie Johnson, foreground, claims the checkered flag at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday. (Keith Shimada - AP)
Associated Press
Monday, March 13, 2006

LAS VEGAS, March 12 -- Jimmie Johnson took advantage of a late-race caution flag Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, catching and passing Matt Kenseth in a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish in the NASCAR Nextel Cup UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400.

Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet surged past Kenseth's No. 17 Ford on the outside after the two sped side-by-side through the third and fourth turns on the 1.5-mile oval for the final time. The winner crossed the finish line 0.115 of a second -- about half a car-length -- ahead as he led a lap for the only time in the 271-lap event.

It was Johnson's second straight win here, but this one was a lot harder than in 2005, when he led 107 laps.

"That was so much fun," Johnson said. "I knew if I could get to his outside and get around him I knew the car was going to drive good. I just didn't want to push the issue. Then they had that green-white checker at the end."

It appeared through most of the race that Kenseth was going to get an easy win after being handed a victory two weeks ago in California when front-runners Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart succumbed to late-race engine problems.

Kenseth, who won here in 2003 and 2004, led a race-high 146 laps and was out front and almost assured of victory before a collision between rookie Denny Hamlin and Kenny Wallace brought out the last of seven caution flags on Lap 264 of the race scheduled to go 267 laps.

A dejected Kenseth told his crew by radio his engine didn't feel strong for the restart, but he was able to hold off Johnson for a lap and a half after the green flag waved for the final time on Lap 270.

"Sorry, you guys won a race and I lost it," Kenseth said to his crew. "Can't do no more."

All three Cup races this season have gone into overtime because of late-race cautions.

After getting out of the car, Kenseth said: "Nobody likes to run second. We led all day. . . . If I tried any harder, we were going to wreck. I just got beat."

Asked if he thought about trying to block Johnson's move to the outside, Kenseth said: "I was running in the groove where my car was the fastest. If I had to redo it right now, I don't think there was anything I could have done different."

Johnson is off to a great start in 2006, winning the Daytona 500 and finishing second in California before taking his 20th career win on Sunday. And he's doing it without crew chief Chad Knaus, banned by NASCAR for the first four races of the season after making unapproved modifications to Johnson's car in Daytona qualifying.

Kyle Busch finished third, followed by Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin.

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