SPRINT Chevy Rock & Roll 400Final
Johnson wins; Bowyer locks up final Chase berthSep 7, 2008 - 10:54 PM RICHMOND, Virginia (Ticker) -- Jimmie Johnson is heading into NASCAR's "Chase for the Championship" with momentum squarely in his favor.
The two-time reigning Sprint Cup champion won Sunday's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway to head into NASCAR's playoffs on a two-race winning streak.
But it wasn't easy, as Johnson needed to hold off Tony Stewart over the final laps to claim his fourth victory of the season.
"I was thinking, 'I'm battling Tony and he doesn't have a win this season,'" Johnson said. "And Tony just drove his butt off."
Johnson passed Stewart and Martin Truex for the lead with 34 laps to go in the final event before NASCAR's 10-race title hunt begins next week in New Hampshire.
Johnson will begin the Chase seeded third, 40 points behind leader Kyle Busch. Carl Edwards is the second seed.
"It's hard not to feel like we're peaking at the right time," Johnson said. "The 48 car is ready for the Chase."
Denny Hamlin finished third Sunday, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin.
Clint Bowyer finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot for the "Chase for the Championship."
"It's a huge relief," Bowyer said. "We just kept our heads together all day."
David Ragan and Kasey Kahne were the other two drivers that could have clinched Chase spots Sunday. Ragan got loose on lap 122 and hit the wall, eventually finishing 32nd.
"It's very disappointing," Ragan said. "During the first 100 laps, I felt like I had a top-five car. Then it seemed like we didn't have speed and then brought out the caution."
Kahne placed 19th Sunday and finished 69 points out of the Chase.
"We're a little disappointed - what we worked on all year was to make the Chase," Kahne said. "But we came a long way from last year. Now our goal is to finish 13th."
The Chase field, according to seeding, is Busch, Edwards, Johnson, Earnhardt, Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth.
Busch had a rough day at Richmond in his final tune-up for his title run by finishing 15th.
Busch was also involved in a wreck with Earnhardt in a reverse of the May race here, when he wrecked Earnhardt while the two were battling for the lead.
Earnhardt said Sunday's contact was not a case of retribution.
"If I wreck somebody, I ain't going to leave him in good enough shape to come back and get me in the same race," Earnhardt said. "I really ain't never wrecked anybody on purpose. If I wanted to do it, I would do it really, really good."
Edwards also had a tough race after battling early tire issues which relegated him to a 13th-place finish.
Stewart was visibly upset after finishing second, arguing with crew chief Greg Zipadelli.
"That's probably one of the greatest races I think I've ever had here at Richmond, racing there with Jimmie like that," said Stewart, who is winless over his past 39 starts. "We'll just leave it as we ran second and we had a good hard-fought battle and we just fell short."
On the other hand, Johnson was steady all day and heads into the playoffs as the circuit's hottest driver, poised to become the first driver to win three straight titles since Cale Yarborough (1976-78).
"I do think about it," Johnson said. "But the less I think about it, the better I'm going to be. The less I can think about all this stuff the last 10 races, the better I am going to be."