May 6, 2007
RICHMOND, Va.(cbssportsline.com/AP) -- Jimmie Johnson led teammate Kyle Busch to a 1-2 finish at Richmond International Raceway on Sunday, the third consecutive victory for Hendrick Motorsports.
Hendrick has won seven of the past eight Nextel Cup races and swept all four races in which NASCAR has used its new Car of Tomorrow.
It looked as if Hendrick would finish 1-2-3 for the final 100 laps of the race, as Johnson, Busch and pole-sitter Jeff Gordon battled for the lead. But Gordon faded over the final 15 laps and gave up third place to Denny Hamlin.
Gordon, who won the past two weeks, settled for fourth as Chevrolets took the top four spots in the race that began briefly Saturday night with 12 laps run under caution before it was halted because of rain. It started fresh on Sunday.
Johnson, the defending Nextel Cup champion, won for the fourth time this season but first at RIR. The .75-mile track has been among the worst on his resume, with Johnson having scored only one top 10 finish in 15 previous visits.
"This means the world to me to win here," Johnson said. "We haven't been that strong here. It reminds me of Indy last year, and we beat a track that's been tough on us. We looked at it as a new opportunity for the team and myself to learn the right setup and for me to learn the right rhythm of the track and had some awesome racing with my teammate."
In this year of Hendrick Motorsports, everything is clicking and the competition is admittedly frustrated.
"You can argue that Hendrick has all the best drivers," Hamlin said. "It's tough to beat them when they've got four very, very good teams. We've got three good teams, but when you've got four like they have -- all competitive and all running up front every week, the information that they exchange is going to be better."
Only Casey Mears, the fourth driver in the Hendrick stable, is struggling. He wrecked early and finished 18th.
Busch said the entire organization is the class of the NASCAR right now.
"We've got great race teams and I'd say probably four of the best 10 or 12 drivers out there," he said. "It's hard to beat the best drivers with the best equipment and the best teams. You just have everything all pieced together correctly."
Only Kevin Harvick had a car that could challenge the Hendrick crew, and the Daytona 500 winner led 106 laps midway through the race. He was out front when the sixth caution sent the field into the pits, but as Harvick pulled out, he clipped rookie David Ragan, who was heading into his stall.
It caused considerable damage to the front of Harvick's car and forced him to stop for repairs. He was in 17th, with heavy black tape around the nose of his Chevrolet, when the race resumed and never challenged again. He rallied to finish seventh.
"We just didn't communicate," Harvick said.
Kurt Busch finished fifth and was followed by his Penske Racing teammate Ryan Newman in sixth. Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top 10.
After Harvick's pit-road error, Kurt Busch briefly moved to the front, but his stay was brief. David Gilliland wrecked to bring out a caution and Busch ducked onto pit road for service. But the leaders didn't follow him, and Busch shuffled back to ninth on the restart.
It put the three Hendrick cars out front, as Johnson, Kyle Busch and Gordon were 1-2-3 when the race resumed. Jeff Green then hit Dale Earnhardt Jr. to cause Earnhardt to spin and bring out the eighth caution of the day.
It didn't change the running order, though, as the three Hendrick cars stayed out front until a debris caution with 82 laps to go. Dave Blaney broke up the Hendrick party with a two-tire pit stop that saw Johnson and Gordon come out in first and second, Blaney third and Kyle Busch fourth with 78 laps to go.
Busch quickly passed him to reclaim third place, then wasted little time getting past Gordon for second.
He drove by Johnson with 44 to go, passing his teammate just as Greg Biffle brought out the 12th caution of the race. Kyle Busch stayed out front through a series of late cautions, but lost it to Johnson on a restart with 20 laps to go.
Johnson drove away and the closest Busch got to him again was when he visited him in Victory Lane to spray him with Gatorade.
The Associated Press News Service