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Johnson wins third straight to take control of Chase

Nov 5, 2007 - 2:22 AM FORT WORTH, Texas (Ticker) - Jimmie Johnson has momentum on his side and that has put the pressure on Jeff Gordon in NASCAR's "Chase for the Championship."

Johnson won his third race in a row after he stalked Matt Kenseth in the late stages of the race, taking the lead after a side-by-side battle with two laps left to win Sunday night's Dickie's 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

"I think it gives us a boost," Johnson said. "Going to victory lane does something for the crew and does something for the shop. We have momentum going our way now but it's only 30 points. Jeff hasn't had bad races the last few weeks. It's not like he's had bad nights. I could finish 10th and he wins the race and I'm back in second.

"The momentum from these victories is carrying over to the shop."

The victory was the culmination of a thrilling battle between Kenseth and Johnson with the defending Nextel Cup champion finally edging ahead.

"I knew it was going to be a battle to the end," Johnson said. "I expected a good fight. There wasn't much time left to get it done and it was a good race there for the end.

"It's so tough from year to year to repeat, but now we have control of the championship."

It was Johnson's ninth win of the season and his first-ever victory at Texas.

More importantly, he wiped out a 9-point deficit to Gordon and now leads by 30 points.

Gordon finished seventh in a Chevrolet Monte Carlo and his hopes for a fifth Cup title just got a lot more difficult.

"I just flat-out got beat today," Gordon said. "I wasn't very good from the start. At the end was the best we had been all day and night. It's a disappointing day but I'm happy for Jimmie and them. They did an awesome job.

"Hey, they are doing their job. I've never focused on anyone else, I've focused on us. Those guys are outperforming us."

Johnson's Chevrolet finished 0.944-seconds ahead of Kenseth's Ford Fusion. Pole-winner Martin Truex Jr. was third in a Chevrolet followed by Kyle Busch's Chevrolet to give Hendrick Motorsports two cars in the top four.

Non-Chase driver Ryan Newman rounded out the top five in a Dodge Charger.

The battle between Kenseth and Johnson was the difference between changing two tires or four on the final pit stop. Kenseth took two but Johnson's four-tire change was a key at the end.

"You figured at the end of this race somebody with two tires might win it but it turned out four tires were the way to go with 30 laps left," Rick Hendrick, Johnson's team owner said.

Kenseth, whose Chase has been one to forget, was in a great position to race for the win against a driver who has to finish races to win a championship.

But both drove aggressively at the end for a great finish.

"I hate to lose it but I made it as rough on him as I could," Kenseth said afterwards. "Overall it was a great day. I hate getting beat. I had that big lead but everything seems to be going for them. I was sideways and I'm glad I didn't wreck but I'm glad I didn't wreck Jimmie.

"I knew it was a matter of time and that he was just playing with me."

The seventh through 12th drivers in The Chase are now mathematically eliminated from title contention.

Clint Bowyer pitted on lap 248 thinking had a loose wheel. He lost one lap, dropping him to a 19th-place finish. He remains third in the Chase, 181 points out of the lead.

Greg Biffle crashed with 36 laps to go and with an oil fire lighting up the night sky, it brought out another yellow flag. Kyle Busch remained in front of Johnson, Kenseth and Kurt Busch. Gordon lurked back in 10th.

After pit stops, Newman's Dodge was in front of Kenseth's Ford. Johnson's Chevy was fifth with Gordon 10th.

The green flag waved on lap 206 with 29 laps to go and Kenseth passed Newman for the lead. But that was just a prelude to Johnson's come-from-behind finish.

"We started off with a decent race car but things got a little funny at the beginning with the tire changes," Johnson said. "At the end, we were back on pace with everyone else's strategy and it was a full-blown brawl with Matt Kenseth.

"I mean that in a good way. It was a lot of fun. It was really good racing. All is good."

Johnson collected $486,211 for his 32nd career win. It's the second time in his career that he has won three straight races. He also won at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Martinsville and Atlanta in the inaugural Chase in 2004.

Kyle Busch led six times for 153 laps, the most of any driver in the race. Denny Hamlin was second by leading twice for 45 laps with Kenseth in front four times for 44 laps.

Johnson was in front four times for a measly nine laps, but they came at the right time.

"I was shocked once I got by the other cars and got to Matt that I didn't get by him sooner," Johnson said. "He was running more defense than offense and that gave me more hope that I could get it done. I knew when I got inside of Matt he was crowding me. I did what I could do to protect the win. I beat him in Vegas by getting to his inside. I knew he was trapping me down there. I was comfortable racing against Matt. He was just going to race me hard.

"At times I thought about the points but Jeff's car was running well and I needed every point I could get. I was just going to go for it and that's what I did tonight."

It would have been easy for Johnson to have settled for second but that's not his style. And the three wins in a row has given his team momentum and the lead with just two races to go in the battle for the championship.

"I was charged up in the car and really, really excited when the checkered flag fell," Johnson said. "To win with everything on the line; this is how I want to win the championship, by racing people. This is good for the sport and the final two races will be the same way.

"Thirty points as you know isn't much and it will be a shootout all the way to Homestead."

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