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Johnson Nabs Top-10 Finish at Rockingham

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. (Feb. 24, 2003) – Jimmie Johnson earned his second top-10 finish of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series season, bringing his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy from the 37th starting position to eighth in Sunday’s Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway.

“This place has haunted me throughout my Busch career and during the start of my Winston Cup career,” said Johnson of the Rockingham, N.C., race track. “We’ve always been strong in the Cup car here, but have just never brought home the finish to go with it. Today we did and we’ll build on it when we get back here in the fall.”

Sunday’s result marked Johnson’s best career Winston Cup finish at “The Rock,” where he came in 28th and 37th in two events last season. The El Cajon, Calif., native remains third in the championship standings, just 33 points back of leader Kurt Busch and two markers behind Rockingham event-winner Dale Jarrett.

After a late-race incident with Dale Earhardt Jr. and rookie Jamie McMurray, four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon finished 15th in the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet.

“(Earnhardt) was racing on the outside hard, got loose and checked up,” Gordon said. “I was right behind him and I hit him. Then, Jamie McMurray ran in the back of me and spun me. It was just a domino effect. There was nothing anybody could have really done.”

Gordon finished one lap down to the leaders after starting 23rd and slid one position in the driver standings to 13th.

“It was definitely a fight,” Gordon said. “It was one of those days where we were gaining on it each time. We had great pit stops. The guys were awesome in the pits. We were just slowly, but surely, making our way up there. But, you just can’t get that far and then have (a spin) happen.

“It was unfortunate that it happened, but it was kind of out of our control. When we got back (in the field), we had a good car, but we didn’t have a car that was capable of just driving right up through everybody.”

Driving the No. 25 UAW-Delphi Chevrolet, Joe Nemechek finished 23rd after starting 14th overall. The Lakeland, Fla., native fought through handling problems after getting together with the No. 42 of McMurray early in the race. The contact damaged the front-end of Nemechek’s Monte Carlo, which was running in 11th at the time.

Nemechek is currently 20th in the overall driver standings.

Terry Labonte, driver of the No. 5 Kellogg’s / got milk? Chevrolet, battled handling problems throughout the afternoon, finishing 27th after starting 31st at the 1.017-mile track.

The two-time Winston Cup champion dropped three positions to 33rd in championship points.

NASCAR’s Winston Cup Series will next visit the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 2. Live coverage of the event will begin at 2:30 p.m. EST on FOX and MRN.

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