Johnson edges Kenseth to claim win in Las Vegas
Published 12:36 am Monday, March 13, 2006
LAS VEGAS, NEV. - Former NASCAR champion Matt Kenseth threw every defensive move he could think of at Jimmie Johnson on the final lap. However, nothing he could throw in front of Johnson worked.
As an exciting result, Johnson edged Kenseth at the finish line to win the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race before a screaming capacity crowd at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The stage was set for the hair-raising completion when Denny Hamlin hit the rear of Kenny Wallace's car with three laps remaining, spreading parts across the track. This prompted the final caution of the day and bunched the field of cars for a green flag, white flag, checkered flag shootout. What that means in layman's terms is bring the field back together, closing the distance between the cars, and let the best driver and car win in a frantic, no-holds-barred, kamikaze-like, 180 mile an hour, two-lap drag race around a fast trioval shaped speedway.
Johnson's pass in his Lowe's Chevrolet on the outside of Kenseth's Dewalt Power Tools Ford from the fourth turn to the finish line ranks as one of the most exhilerating finishes in NASCAR history and further explains why the sport has become so incredibly popular with sports fans in recent years.
Trailing Johnson and Kenseth was hometown Las Vegas native Kyle Busch, in a Kellogg's-sponsored Chevrolet. Kasey Kahne, winner of Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series race, was fourth in a Dodge and four-time series champion Jeff Gordon was fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 were Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Greg Biffle, Casey Mears and Hamlin.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. wound up 27th after being penalized for speeding on pit road during the final round of pit stops before the green, white, checkered finish. So was Scott Riggs, who was 28th.
Riggs was headed for a much better finish before his speeding penalty, having posted some of the fastest lap times of any car in the latter stages of the race. Earnhardt was never a factor in the race.
Two-time champion Tony Stewart was a factor much of the day, leading and running up front, but a flat tire knocked him from contention near the end. Stewart finished 21st.
The victory was Johnson's second of the season with interim rew chief Darian Grubb, who is filling in for suspended Chad Knaus.
Knaus was ejected from Daytona 500 activities for rules violations. Johnson won the Daytona 500 without him. Johnson also finished second at California with Knaus at home and captured the one Sunday with Grubb once again calling the shots. Knaus will be able to return to competition for the Bristol race.
Another Las Vegas native, 2004 champion Kurt Busch finished way back in the field after also being penalized for speeding on pit road. However, Busch was not a contender for victory when penalized.
Reed Sorenson brought out the overcast afternoon's first caution flag when he slid into the retaining wall with a flat right front tire after 35 laps of the 267-lap, 500-mile distance. Stewart led all but a few of those opening laps, moving ahead of fastest qualifier Biffle on the second lap around the 1.5-mile trioval speedway just a dozen miles north of Las Vegas' glitzy, glamorous downtown.
Speedway owner Bruton Smith announced earlier this week a multi-million-dollar improvement project that will add another skyline to the western desert - plush, pampering, high-rise condominiums overlooking turn one outside the track. Plans also call for other additons to the facility, including a new track surface.