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Johnson Leads Standings, Vickers Nabs Atlanta Top-10

HAMPTON, Ga. (March 20, 3005) – Jimmie Johnson again vaulted to the top of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series standings Sunday, finishing second at Atlanta Motor Speedway in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.

The performance, his fourth top-five just four races into the season, gave the El Cajon, Calif., native an 82-point cushion over the field going into another off-weekend for his Team Lowe’s Racing crew.

“We had a great performance today to end up second,” Johnson said.  “You never know when or if this streak will come to an end, or however it works out in this sport.

“I’m enjoying every solid finish we have, so I’m very happy to be here.  I’ve got guys who work their guts out for me, and work extremely hard.”

Driving the No. 25 GMAC/ditech.com Chevy, Brian Vickers battled for a career-best sixth-place finish, but there was nothing easy about the outcome as the team was forced to come from the back of the field on two separate occasions.

“It’s awesome how well everyone has come together,” Vickers said.  “This new 5/25 shop is working out great.  Brain Whitsell (team manager) is heading that and all the people involved.

“You know, Rick (Hendrick, team owner) has done a great job of getting us what we needed.  I’m happy to have the GMAC/ditech.com Chevy back (up front).  I really, really have a good feeling about this year.  I think we have a good chance.”

Vickers gave credit to his GMAC Racing team, who produced quick pit stops all afternoon.

“It’s been our best run,” said Vickers, who started eighth and now sits 22nd in points.  “It was definitely one of the toughest to get.  We had to go back to the back twice and come to the front for various issues and reasons, but the guys worked hard all day and had good pit stops and a good run.”

Rookie Kyle Busch drove like a veteran Sunday after going to a backup car following a qualifying accident Friday evening.  The 19-year-old Las Vegas native started 42nd, but worked his way up into the 12th position when the checkered flag fell.  He’s now 19th in the NEXTEL Cup standings.

Led by crew chief Alan Gustafson, the No. 5 Kellogg’s Racing crew worked feverishly to prepare the backup, but the car never saw a lap of practice prior to the green flag.  The team also experienced communication problems throughout the first portion of the race thanks to a radio malfunction.

“That’s why Hendrick Motorsports is so good,” Gustafson said.  “We do so much research and we have so much talent and we know what we’ve got, what our cars are and what the engine shop knows.

“We just put our heads together, our engineers, and we just sat down and we looked at this car and looked at the wind tunnel numbers.  We kind of put a setup in it and got fairly close.  I’m real proud of them.”

Four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon was caught up in a Lap 1 incident, putting his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet multiple laps down.  He finished 39th and now sits 12th in the driver standings.

Carl Edwards recorded his first career NEXTEL Cup victory, taking the checkered flag at Atlanta.

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series will enjoy a break for the Easter holiday before visiting Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 3.  Live coverage of the event will be carried on FOX and PRN Radio.

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