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Jimmie Johnson leads Chevy sweep of Chevy race

by Tim Wohlford
Sunday, September 07, 2008

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Johnson wins again
Neither Hurricane Hanna nor the best efforts of Toyota's Joe Gibbs Racing could rain on Chevy's parade today.  Jimmie Johnson made it two-in-a-row by winning the Chevy Rock and Roll 400, followed by Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr and Mark Martin. David Ragan failed to break into the top 12, finishing 32nd, one lap down. 

Hurricane Hannah -- which should be the name of a very potent adult drink -- forced the race to be postponed as well as qualification to canceled.  The cars started according to owner's points, which meant that all of the drivers fighting for positions in the "Chase" championship battle were together on the track.  As the TV commentators noted, perhaps this is the way that the Richmond race -- the last race before the Chase begins -- should always be.  By just be starting the race Kevin Harvick was locked positions in the Chase, and when the first car fell out, Greg Biffle was locked in as well.  Realistically only the 12th position (held by Clint Boyer)  was in major jeopardy, with David Ragan the only driver with a realistic chance to get into the top 12.

Also due to the hurricane, a competition caution was scheduled for lap 35 in order to check tire wear.  Kyle Busch lead the first 28 laps, with Kevin Harvick taking the lead on lap 29.  Sam Hornish lead a lap during the caution, but it was Jeff Gordon -- having taken only 2 tires -- who lead the field when the green flag flew on lap 42.  Kevin Harvick quickly took the lead, on the next lap, and held it until lap 77 when Denny Hamlin took the lead.  Three laps later, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead, showing that in long runs he could run in the high groove and was a force to be reckoned with. 

Johnny Sauter cut down a tire in turn two on lap 96, bringing out the second caution flag, and after the pit stops Earnhardt was in the lead, followed by Hamlin, Harvick, and Kyle Busch at the quarter mark of the race. 

Quick cautions were later brought out when Michael Waltrip spun on lap 103, and Greg Biffle hit the wall on lap 115, but Earnhardt was still leading the same cast of characters when an accident that affected the points battle caused a caution flag on lap 122.  David Ragan slid up the track, possibly on oil, and hit the wall in turn 1.  Matt Kenseth couldn't avoid Ragan, collected his team mate, and got by far the worst end of the damage.  Both cars continued on, but neither was a factor for the rest of the day.  Worse yet, it forced a situation for a few laps where the only way that Ragan could make the Chase was to knock out fellow Roush driver Kenseth, but with a 70-point (give or take) deficit that was an unlikely outcome with a wounded car (and perhaps team orders?).  Kenseth finished 39th, but did stay in the Chase, albeit a couple of positions lower than when the day started. 

Again the green flag flew on lap 127 with Earnhardt in the lead, followed by Harvick, Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Clint Boyer.  Ragan started this run in 32nd spot, and dropped to 33rd, one lap down when the caution flew for two accidents on lap 164.  On lap 164 Juan Montoya hit the wall on the outside of a three-wide car pack, which Elliott Sadler -- on the inside of that same pack -- spun down the front stretch.  Matt Kenseth stayed out a lap on the caution to lead a lap, but then was forced into a second pit stop to repair crash damage and restarted the race a lap down.  At the restart, Earnhardt lead the usual suspects -- Harvick, Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Johnson -- to the green flag.  Earnhardt gave up the lead on lap 172 to Harvick, who in turn lost it to Kyle Busch on lap 186, which is how things ran at the halfway mark. 

On lap 201, Sam Hornish Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. both spun after Truex made contact with Hornish.  Mark Martin lead a lap on the caution, but it was Kyle Busch who lead when the green flag flew on lap 209.  Busch was followed by Earnhardt -- and on lap 211 they got together.  The video shows that Earnhardt locked up the brakes to avoid contract, but the crowd erupted in cheers as the series' most popular driver spun out the least popular driver.  Busch limped his car to pit road with serious rear-end damage, and Earnhardt took over the lead.  It is noteworthy that a Chevy spun out the strongest Toyota in a race sponsored by Chevrolet. 

Once again, Earnhardt lead the field to the green flag, and held it through another yellow flag (Sadler with his second spin of the day), finally relinquishing it on lap 236 when Tony Stewart took the lead.  On lap 241 Elliott Sadler spun out Kyle Busch, bringing out the caution flag.  This time the leaders all pitted, and when the smoke cleared, David Reutimann was in the lead, followed by Mark Martin, Martin Truex Jr., Michael Waltrip and Michael McDowell (who all stayed out on this round of pit stops).  More significantly, Ragan was in the chase, and was Truex out had the race ended at that moment, due to the fact that Ragan didn't pit during the caution period.

Reutimann lead until Brian Vickers hit the wall while Reutimann passed him to put Vickers a lap down.  NASCAR penalized Vickers another lap because they felt that Vickers brought out a needless yellow flag instead of heading to the pits.  At any rate, Reutimann lead Stewart -- both in Toyotas -- to the green flag, followed by gaggle of 5 Chevys. Shortly after the green flag,  Boyer move up in the field to 21st and regained his 12th spot in the points. 

Short track racing brought out another yellow on lap 314 when Bobby Labonte spun out, causing  Bill Elliott and Carl Edwards to spin into each other trying to avoid the accident.  Kyle Busch, who was leading before he got spun out, finally got his lap back under caution.  Clint Boyer started behind David Ragan (16th and 15th respectively).

Once again the race resumed on lap 320, with David Reutimann leading Tony Stewart, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson.  Stewart passed Reutimann for the lead on lap 349, holding it until Scott Riggs spun out in lap 359.  Martin Truex Jr. took the lead under caution, and the race now would be decided on speed rather than a fuel strategy.

Any time an auto manufacturer sponsors the race, there is pressure on the teams running that brand to win the race.  However, other makes would love to spoil that party, and to this point Toyota had dominated the race.  On lap 367 Jimmie Johnson put his Chevy ahead of Truex's Chevy for the lead, with Stewart soon passing Truex for second.  However, a caution flag on lap 374 bunched the race again, and when the green flew on lap 374 it was Chevy - Toyota - Chevy - Chevy - Chevy (Johnson, Stewart, Earnhardt, Truex, and Burton).  Obviously Stewart will be in a Chevy next year. 

The crowd was then treated to a classic 20-lap sprint with Johnson and Stewart racing side by side for most of the race -- Stewart was running the low line, and Johnson ran around on the top.  In the end, Johnson proved to be too strong, winning the race by some 5 car lengths.  It was Johnson's fourth win of the year, while Stewart remains winless this season.  Stewart's team mate Denny Hamlin finished third, followed by Earnhardt and Mark Martin. 

As for the points race, Ragan failed to break into the top 12, finishing 32nd, one lap down, so the same 12 were in the Chase after the race as before the race.  Tony Stewart moved up to 6th, Greg Biffle moved down to 8th, Hamlin moved up to 9th while Kenseth moved down to 11th.  Kasey Kahne did move up to the 13th position during the race due to Ragan's woes today. 

-  The Roush team struggled today, at a time when they needed to shine.  Carl Edwards finished 13th, 1 lap down, followed by Greg Biffle in 14th.  Jamie McMurray finished 29th, David Ragan finished 32nd and Matt Kenseth 39th.  Likewise, Chip Ganassi Racing continues their woes, with Reed Sorenson finishing 26th, and Juan Pablo finishing 31st. 

Results

FIN

ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 3 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 190/5 400 Running
2 8 20 Tony Stewart Toyota The Home Depot 175/5 400 Running
3 11 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Express 170/5 400 Running
4 4 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet AMP Energy / National Guard 165/5 400 Running
5 17 8 Mark Martin Chevrolet U.S. Army 155/0 400 Running
6 5 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet AT&T Mobility 150/0 400 Running
7 7 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Shell / Pennzoil 151/5 400 Running
8 10 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Nicorette / DuPont 147/5 400 Running
9 27 44 David Reutimann Toyota UPS 148/10 400 Running
10 20 2 Kurt Busch Dodge Miller Lite 134/0 400 Running
11 25 5 Casey Mears Chevrolet Kellogg's / CARQUEST 130/0 400 Running
12 12 07 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet Jack Daniel's 127/0 400 Running
13 2 99 Carl Edwards Ford Office Depot 124/0 400 Running
14 6 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M 121/0 400 Running
15 1 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's 123/5 400 Running
16 18 1 Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Tracker 120/5 400 Running
17 24 28 Travis Kvapil Ford Hitachi Power Tools 112/0 400 Running
18 26 38 David Gilliland Ford CitiFinancial 109/0 400 Running
19 38 00 Michael McDowell * Toyota Champion Mortgage 106/0 400 Running
20 14 9 Kasey Kahne Dodge Budweiser 103/0 400 Running
21 23 43 Bobby Labonte Dodge Cheerios / Betty Crocker 100/0 400 Running
22 32 22 Dave Blaney Toyota Caterpillar 97/0 400 Running
23 29 01 Regan Smith * Chevrolet DEI / Principal Financial Group 94/0 400 Running
24 41 45 Kyle Petty Dodge Marathon American Spirit Motor Oil 91/0 400 Running
25 39 10 Patrick Carpentier * Dodge Valvoline 88/0 400 Running
26 30 41 Reed Sorenson Dodge Target 85/0 400 Running
27 40 96 Ken Schrader Toyota DLP HDTV 82/0 400 Running
28 34 55 Michael Waltrip Toyota NAPA AUTO PARTS 79/0 400 Running
29 19 26 Jamie McMurray Ford Crown Royal 76/0 400 Running
30 33 66 Scott Riggs Chevrolet State Water Heaters 73/0 400 Running
31 22 42 Juan Montoya Dodge Juicy Fruit Slim Pack 70/0 400 Running
32 13 6 David Ragan Ford AAA Insurance 67/0 400 Running
33 16 12 Ryan Newman Dodge Alltel 64/0 398 Running
34 28 15 Paul Menard Chevrolet Energizer / Menards 61/0 398 Running
35 37 21 Bill Elliott Ford U.S. Air Force 58/0 398 Running
36 15 83 Brian Vickers Toyota Red Bull 55/0 397 Running
37 21 19 Elliott Sadler Dodge Best Buy / Garmin 52/0 397 Running
38 36 77 Sam Hornish Jr. * Dodge Mobil 1 54/5 397 Running
39 9 17 Matt Kenseth Ford DEWALT 51/5 397 Running
40 42 78 Joe Nemechek Chevrolet Furniture Row/ DenverMattress.com 43/0 397 Running
41 43 70 Johnny Sauter Chevrolet Hunt Brothers Pizza 40/0 396 Running
42 35 7 Robby Gordon Dodge Jim Beam / Operation Homefront 37/0 391 Running
43 31 84 A.J. Allmendinger Toyota Red Bull 34/0 335 Running

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