LAS VEGAS (March 13, 2005) – Jimmie Johnson visited Victory Lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday as Hendrick Motorsports posted a trio of top-five finishes and won for the second time in three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events this season.
Thanks to a stellar effort by crew chief Chad Knaus and his Team Lowe’s Racing crew, Johnson led all but a handful of the final laps before holding off rookie teammate Kyle Busch as the pair raced toward the checkered flag.
Hendrick Motorsports swept the top two positions and, with Jeff Gordon putting up a fourth-place performance, fell just short of a 1-2-3 finish.
“Man we worked hard for this today,” said Johnson, who started ninth. “It was a lot of work. This track was very slick. We worked hard to keep the car underneath me.
“It was a lot of fun.”
Johnson’s success came Sunday at a track where he had yet to post a top-five finish.
“I’m glad to get it, especially out here on the West Coast,” he said. “I’m so happy for Hendrick Motorsports and this Lowe’s team. I’m sure all the Lowe’s employees are celebrating.”
A Las Vegas native, Busch put on a show for the hometown crowd, starting 10th and earning his first career top-five finish in NEXTEL Cup competition. Johnson, who has 15 career victories on the circuit, was duly impressed by his 19-year-old teammate.
“Kyle Busch ran a great race,” Johnson said. “Hendrick Motorsports really has it going on right now.”
The second-place effort tied Kasey Kahne’s Raybestos Rookie mark at Las Vegas, and made Busch just the third rookie to score a top-five finish at the 1.5-mile track.
“Man, I can’t say enough,” Busch said. “Mr. (Rick) Hendrick and Hendrick Motorsports—the engines ran great all day today. The guys in the chassis shop and body shop, they build some awesome race cars, and to come out here with the Kellogg’s/Robots Chevrolet and finish runner-up, that’s not too bad.
“Alan Gustafson (crew chief) and all these guys on this Kellogg’s crew have done an awesome job for me and I’m looking forward to the rest of the year. Hopefully we can get it done.”
Gordon, who qualified 11th, was happy with the effort of his No. 24 DuPont crew, but made it clear he wanted to battle his teammates for the win.
“I’m just proud for the DuPont Chevrolet team,” he said. “You know, we went back and forth every time we were up in the top five. Somebody would take two tires and we’d have problems or something would happen. You know, we’d get shuffled back. It was just a great effort on the car because we just kept tuning to make it better and better.
“I wanted to get up there and give my teammate Jimmie Johnson a run for his money and also Kyle Busch. What a great run for him today.”
Driving his No. 25 GMAC/ditech.com Chevy, Brian Vickers was tapped by Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Lap 13, which triggered a four-car incident. The 21-year-old Vickers was uninjured, but the damage ended the team’s day.
Vickers made it clear there were no hard feelings.
“Junior apologized, which is good,” he said. “Stuff happens and guys make mistakes. I’m just disappointed for the GMAC Chevrolet team.
“We had a great car. We had an awesome car for the race—it handled so good. We were moving up toward the front. We didn’t have a good day in qualifying, but it was going to be a good day for us.”
With the victory, Johnson now sits atop the NEXTEL Cup standings with a 15-point cushion on second place. Gordon moved up six positions to fourth, while Busch made a 14-place jump to 18th overall. Vickers is 30th.
The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will next visit Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 20. FOX and PRN will carry live coverage.