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Johnson Second, Teammates Close Behind at Chicago

JOLIET, Ill. (July 11, 2004) – Jimmie Johnson continued to stretch his lead in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship standings Sunday, finishing second in the Tropicana 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Driving the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, Johnson started third and consistently ran in the top-10 before scoring the runner-up finish to race-winner Tony Stewart.

“We had a solid effort,” said Johnson, who now holds a 105-point margin over second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the NEXTEL Cup standings “Once again the Lowe’s team continues to put forth great race cars, great handling cars and cars that stay together….”

Johnson was closely followed by his trio of Hendrick Motorsports teammates—Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Brian Vickers—who all finished in the top-14 at the 1.5-mile Joliet oval.

Gordon started from the pole position for the fourth consecutive event and struggled early before bouncing back to record a fourth-place finish in the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet.

It was the four-time champion’s fourth top-five result in the last five races.

“What a great battle,” Gordon said.  “We had a lot of fortune on our side.  Something happened to the car.  We took off there and I was pretty good.  All of a sudden, I got super loose.  We tried everything in the world and it didn’t tighten the car up.  When you do that, you know something is wrong there.

“These (Hendrick Motorsports) guys brought it back to life there at the end.  The cautions fell at the right time and we had great pit stops.  It’s an amazing comeback.  I’m so proud of this DuPont Chevrolet team to finish fourth today.”

With seven top-fives, 13 top-10s and a series-leading four victories, Gordon remains third in the championship standings, 137 points back of Earnhardt Jr. and 242 behind Johnson.

Nearly nabbing his first top-five finish of 2004, Terry Labonte drove his No. 5 Chevy to a sixth-place finish Sunday.  His Kellogg’s Racing team has posted two consecutive top-10 finishes and four in the last six races.

Labonte remained 21st in the overall standings, just 19 points behind 20th-place teammate Brian Vickers.

Piloting the No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Monte Carlo, Vickers picked up his sixth top-15 showing in the last eight events, coming away 14th after starting fourth. 

The 20-year-old, who has already started in the top-five eight times this season, was the highest-finishing Raybestos Rookie for the third consecutive race.

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series teams will enjoy the final off-weekend of 2004 of before resuming the schedule at New Hampshire International Speedway on Sunday, July 25.

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