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Johnson breaks bank

The Chevy driver holds back the Busch brothers in their hometown to win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Associated Press
Published March 14, 2005


LAS VEGAS - With a $30,000 bonus tucked inside his pocket, Jimmie Johnson headed to the casino to celebrate his latest victory.

If he can run the tables the same way he's running the Nextel Cup series, he might just break the bank.

Johnson ended the Roush Racing stranglehold at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, spoiling what could have been a banner day for hometown boys Kurt and Kyle Busch by beating both brothers to win the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400.

After the race, NASCAR said the roof of Johnson's Chevrolet was too low in inspection and Kyle Busch, who finished second, had a car that came in too high on the rear quarterpanel.

NASCAR did not announce penalties, but could dock points from both drivers. If Johnson loses any points, Kurt Busch could take over the lead in the standings.

Johnson earned his 15th career victory and fifth in the past nine races dating to last season. He hasn't finished worse than sixth since October, and this victory put him right back where he spent most of last season - on top of the points standings.

"I can have a little fun at the blackjack table tonight," Johnson said of the bonus that comes with earning the points lead. "But I'm not concerned about the points lead yet."

Johnson earned a series-high eight wins last season, only to fall eight points shy of winning the title. But he has come charging out of the gate this year, with a fifth-place finish in the opener at Daytona and a runnerup finish in California.

This victory helped Hendrick Motorsports claim a piece of the track in the desert that Roush Racing has dominated with five victories in the first seven races.

But with Johnson and Hendrick teammates Kyle Busch finishing second and Jeff Gordon fourth, the Roush dominance is over. Kurt Busch finished third for Roush.

Johnson was strong all the way, leading a race-high 107 laps as he seemed to coast toward the victory. The only trouble he had was passing a lapped car with under 20 laps to go.

It allowed Kyle Busch, a 19-year-old rookie, to close the gap on the leader as big brother Kurt, the reigning Nextel Cup champion, also moved within striking distance.

But lapped traffic soon got in the way of the Busch brothers, preventing them from challenging Johnson, who beat Kyle by several car lengths.

"It was a great performance for the Hendricks," Johnson said. "Right now both the Hendrick cars and the Roush cars, you can see the hard work they put in over the winter. They've got one win and we've got (two)."

Gordon won the Daytona 500, and Roush driver Greg Biffle won in California.

As Johnson drove his Chevrolet to Victory Lane, Kyle was treasuring his finish.

"This is as good as a win as far as I'm concerned," he yelled to his crew.

"I had a bunch of guys put money on me, so it would have been cool to have Jimmie pull over and let us win," said Kyle, who went off at 60-1 before the race. "But, hey, next year I'll probably have a lot lower odds."

The Busch brothers have had a whirlwind week in Vegas, where they grew up. It's always a party when the boys are home, as they cram in all the friend and family visits they can - as well as a dozen or so visits to In-N-Out Burger.

Kyle even squeezed in a stint as instructor for a high school defensive driving course.

But all the glitz and glamor isn't always what it's cracked up to be, at least for Kurt, who has seemed to struggle at his home track. So with the race coming to an end, and his shot at a victory gone, he had an even harder time accepting the kid he calls "Shrub" beating him to the finish line.

"To see (Kyle) in front of me, oooh, that was tough to swallow," Kurt said. "But I am so very proud of him. But I officially have to cut it out from here: No more advice for Kyle."

Kevin Harvick, who had to start 42nd because his team admittedly cheated in qualifying, battled back and overcame a speeding penalty to finish fifth. Greg Biffle was sixth, followed by Casey Mears and Matt Kenseth, the two-time defending race winner.

Kasey Kahne's struggles continued. He finished second here a year ago, but wasn't competitive this time and hit the wall midway through the race. He ended up 38th and, after a 40th-place finish Feb.27, is 38th in points.

"I'm upset with myself for crashing the car, but I was running two seconds off the pace and still couldn't hang on to it," Kahne said. "We were junk."

GRAND AM SERIES: Americans Bill Auberlen and Justin Marks won the first series race outside North America, surviving heat and a power outage midway through the race in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

The race was temporarily stopped near the halfway point when the outage knocked out the track's computer system. The lost time in the middle of the competition meant the race was stopped at the three-hour time limit after 121 laps, four short of the scheduled distance.

"This was the hardest race I've ever done," Auberlen said. "The car got so hot that it quickly ran out of water and I had to hang on to finish."

Americans Rob Finlay and Michael McDowell, also driving a BMW, took second and Canadians Scott Maxwell and David Empringham came in third with a Ford Mustang GT.

With a temperature of 86 and high humidity, 36 cars with alternating drivers barreled around a 1.6-mile oceanfront track at speeds reaching 160 mph. More than 10,000 attended the race.