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Jackpot: Johnson Wins Last-Lap Vegas Shootout

LAS VEGAS (March 12, 2006) – It was something of a letter-perfect day for Hendrick Motorsports.

Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet took advantage of a late-race caution and nosed past race leader Matt Kenseth on the last turn to win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It was Johnson’s second win—and third top-two finish—in three races this season. Teammate and Las Vegas native Kyle Busch finished third in his No. 5 Kellogg’s/Ice Age Chevrolet; and Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet rounded out the top five.  Brian Vickers, driving a No. 25 GMAC Chevrolet, salvaged a 22nd-place finish.

“That was so much fun,” Johnson said immediately after the race, which marked his 20th career victory. “I knew if I could get to his outside and get around [Kenseth], I knew the car was going to drive good.”

And the Chevrolet did, holding off Kenseth, who led a race-high 146 laps (of 267), by about half a car length.

“I don’t think I would have caught him [without the caution],” Johnson said. “If we’d had a long run, I think I could have been up there racing with him. But if it stayed green, Matt had it in the bag. When the caution came out, I could get right on his bumper and could work out my game plan from there.”

Johnson now leads the race for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championship by 52 points. Both Busch and Gordon jumped six spots in the standings, to sixth and ninth, respectively, while Vickers moved to 12th.

Busch continues to churn out impressive results, carrying the momentum he built late last year when he won his first two races into his second NEXTEL Cup season.

“We had a great race car all day,” he said Sunday. “It was definitely one of the best cars I’ve had here at Vegas. My team did a great job giving me great pit stops and keeping me up front pretty much most of the day—I think the lowest we fell might have been eighth or 10th or something.

“To have a good run like that in my hometown definitely means a lot. It gives me a lot of pride. Being able to come out of here with another top-three finish, we can go on to Atlanta and hopefully have a strong run there.”

Gordon, who scored his first top-five finish of the season, likes what he’s seen so far of his DuPont team and especially his new crew chief, 26-year-old Steve Letarte.

“I was really thrilled with the performance of the whole team,” he said. “It was really a cool day for us to be able to get back in the top five and have something for those guys and go forward. It’s due to Steve and the entire team and their effort on pit road and just never giving up. I think we saw this same performance in California; we just didn’t get the results. Today we did.”

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