-- Jimmie Johnson used a near-flawless performance to overcome a NASCAR mistake, drawing closer to the points lead with a win under caution Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Johnson controlled most of the Pocono 500 for his second win in three weeks and third this year. He's led 820 miles in the last three races and has two more seconds in his last five.
Jeremy Mayfield, who has two of his three career victories at Pocono, finished second. He pushed Johnson hard inside and was about a car-length behind when another yellow flag came out with three laps left.
Bobby Labonte, who won the 1999 Pocono 500 and the 1999 and 2001 Pennsylvania 500, was third.
Johnson put aside a disappointing 32nd-place finish last week at Dover, when he was one of the many casualties of a 19-car pileup that led to several caution rules changes for this race.
At Pocono, he was almost a victim of NASCAR's ever-changing, and often confusing, rules.
The pit road official opened the service lane one lap too early during a late caution period. As a result, Johnson, the leader, was unable to pit while most of the cars behind him did. He had to pit later and it cost him the front spot on the restart.
Johnson, though, raced his way back to the front, then built on his lead on several restarts on the 21/2-mile triangular track. He took the lead on Lap 174.
"We were just doing what we were told in the drivers' meeting," Johnson said. "The first time I came by, the pits were open and it was a mistake by the flag man on pit road. Luckily it cycled itself out, but for a time I was nervous."
After only three cautions in the first 100 laps, there were eight in the last 100. The most notable came when Rusty Wallace hit Michael Waltrip and sent him into the wall. Both drivers were knocked out and Waltrip was furious.
"I am just amazed that somebody could do something that stupid," Waltrip said.
The race ended under caution because Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton blew engines.
The 11 caution flags equaled the 11 last week at Dover. NASCAR President Mike Helton promised changes and explained several new rules to the drivers at the pre-race meeting. There was still plenty of confusion, both by the drivers and NASCAR officials.
Only Johnson, Terry Labonte and Jamie McMurray stayed on the track and followed the new rule correctly during the pit confusion.
Eventually, it paid off for Johnson.
Johnson now seems primed to make a serious run at leading the points race after the 26th race.
Series leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. came into the race with a 98-point lead in the standings. Earnhardt finished sixth and saw his lead over Johnson cut to 58.
Johnson is suddenly looking like the old Jeff Gordon, his mentor who co-owns the No. 48 Chevrolet. They also are teammates at Hendrick Motorsports.
Johnson's performance at Dover was only his fourth finish out of the top 10 this year. He also won at Darlington and had consecutive second-place finishes leading up to his dominant performance at the Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, N.C.
"The one in Charlotte was pretty good, but this one was right there with it," Johnson said.
Mark Martin, who snapped a 73-race winless streak last week, blew an engine and finished out of the running.
Ryan Newman also challenged Johnson for most of the second half of the race until Robby Gordon got loose and smacked him flush on the left side. Newman's car limped to pit road, his car smoking.
But it's Johnson who's the hottest driver in NASCAR.