Monday, September 15, 2003

NASCAR: Johnson's luck at Loudon continues

The Associated Press

LOUDON, N.H. - Jimmie Johnson overcame a pit accident that sent three of his crewmen flying, an angry competitor he believes was trying to wreck him and another round of fuel strategy to win Sunday at the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

In July, Johnson stretched his fuel for the last 93 laps on the way to victory on the 1.058-mile oval. This time, he and his team played another strategy to perfection, giving up the lead to make a fast, fuel-only stop 25 laps from the end.

As the rest of the leaders were forced to pit for gas, Johnson moved closer and closer to the front, finally regaining the top spot on the 294th of 300 laps.

Nobody was able to challenge Johnson after he regained the lead. He finished 6.24 seconds ahead of Ricky Rudd.

Johnson almost didn't make it to the end of the race after a harrowing pit stop on lap 128.

The lead lap cars pitted and Jeff Gordon tried to go between the second-place Johnson, who was already stopped in his pit, and Michael Waltrip, who was heading toward the pit directly in front of Johnson and right behind Gordon's.

Waltrip didn't see Gordon and slid into him, sending Gordon's car against the right front of Johnson's and knocking Johnson's right front tire changer, Cory Quick, and tire carrier, Ryan McCray, into the air. Jackman Chris Anderson was also bowled over. All three crewman were bruised, but not seriously hurt. They all went right back to work.

"When I looked up, I saw two of my guys on the windshield of the 24 going for a ride," Johnson said, referring to Gordon's car. "My jackman also got hit. They got up off the ground in pain and finished the stop and got us out and kept us going all day long.

"We had to overcome a lot of adversity and it took the whole team to do it."

He had to make an extra pit stop under caution to let his crew check the car for damage and fell to 22nd place. As he slowly made his way back toward the front of the field, Johnson barely avoided another possible disaster.

"I ended up getting tangled up with Ward Burton and I'm sorry for that," Johnson said. "He was racing me really hard and I was racing hard, too, and I got loose and caught him going into (turn) one and put him into the wall.

"He was pretty mad. He tried to crash me three or four times under green."

Johnson, who led a total of only 12 laps Sunday, became the first driver to win both NHIS races in a season since the second event was added in 1997, and the first driver to win two in a row since the first Cup race here in 1993.

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