Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gamble Pays for Johnson Owner's Call Gives Rookie Victory at Platinum 400

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gamble Pays for Johnson Owner's Call Gives Rookie Victory at Platinum 400

Article excerpt

Byline: Don Coble, Times-Union sports writer

DOVER, Del. -- Rick Hendrick's voice was booming and comforting in a moment of uncertainty yesterday during the closing laps of the MBNA Platinum 400 at the Dover International Speedway.

Driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, relative neophytes in the world of NASCAR Winston Cup racing, couldn't decided whether to change two or four tires during the final caution period with 26 laps to go.

That's when Hendrick, a car owner with five championships since he joined the circuit in 1984, weighed in with his vote:

"I think you boys need to stay out.''

Enough said.

Johnson was the only driver of the 17 still on the lead lap to skip the final stop, but the track position he maintained proved more valuable as he drove away from the field to win his second race of the season.

If not for a couple of mistakes -- he was leading at Richmond, Va., when he bumped into Jimmy Spencer and he was leading at Concord, N.C., when he overshot his pit stall -- the rookie from Southern California could be riding a four-race winning streak.

"Three poles, two wins -- this is incredible this early in the season,'' he said. "Right now it's clicking. I wish I could bottle it up and store it away for 100 years."

Johnson's Chevrolet was practically unstoppable. Even with hot, worn tires, he drove away from Bill Elliott in the final 23 laps to win by 30 yards.

"I gave everything I could to get to him, but I just ran out of time," Elliott said.

Johnson led a race-best 188 laps. When he was shuffled to fourth overall and eighth in the restart with 104 laps to go, he powered his way through traffic and was back out front with 38 laps remaining.

"I thought we were going to run out of time,'' Johnson said. "When we got behind like that, I thought about getting a top-five finish for the points. I wasn't paying attention to the race win. Then, all of a sudden, I was right behind [race leader] Ricky Rudd. …

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