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Johnson overtakes Kenseth on final lap of overtime sprint
LAS VEGAS -- Jimmie Johnson took advantage of a late-race caution flag Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, catching and passing Matt Kenseth in a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish in the NASCAR Nextel Cup UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400.
Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet surged past Kenseth's No. 17 Ford on the outside after the two sped side-by-side through the third and fourth turns on the 1.5-mile oval for the final time. The winner crossed by finish line 0.115 seconds -- about half a car-length -- ahead as he led a lap for the only time in the 271-lap event.
It was Johnson's second straight win here, but this one was a lot harder than 2005 when he led 107 laps.
"That was so much fun," Johnson said. "I knew if I could get to his outside and get around him I knew the car was going to drive good. I just didn't want to push the issue. Then they had that green-white-checker at the end."
It appeared through most of the race that Kenseth was going to get an easy win after being handed a victory two weeks ago in California when front-runners Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart succumbed to late-race engine problems.
Kenseth, who won here in 2003 and 2004, led a race-high 146 laps and was out front and almost assured of victory before a collision between rookie Denny Hamlin and Kenny Wallace brought out the last of seven caution flags on lap 264 of the race scheduled to go 267 laps.
A dejected Kenseth told him crew by radio his engine didn't feel strong for the restart, but he was able to hold off Johnson for a lap and a half after the green flag waved for the final time on lap 270.
"Sorry, you guys won a race and I lost it," Kenseth said to his crew. "Can't do no more, I don't know."
All three Cup races this season have gone into overtime because of late-race cautions.
After getting out of the car, Kenseth said, "Nobody likes to run second. We led all day. ... If I tried any harder, we were going to wreck. I just got beat."
Asked if he thought about trying to block Johnson's move to the outside, Kenseth said, "I was running in the groove where my car was the fastest. If I had to redo it right now, I don't think there was anything I could have done different."
Johnson is off to a great start in 2006, winning the Daytona 500 and finishing second in California before taking his 20th career win on Sunday. And he's doing it without crew chief Chad Knaus, banned by NASCAR for the first four races of the season after making unapproved modifications to Johnson's car in Daytona qualifying.
With lead engineer Darian Grubb stepping in for Knaus, Johnson will head to Atlanta Motor Speedway next week with a 52-point lead over Kenseth in the standings.
Local boy Kyle Busch, who ran second to Johnson last year, finished third, followed by Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin.
Two-time and reigning Cup champion Stewart had his second straight disappointing finish after running fifth in Daytona. He led 54 laps Sunday and stayed in the top five until the last few laps when he had a tire rubbing and fell back into the pack, finishing 21st.
Stewart became angry at Busch late in the race, reaching out the window and shaking his fist at the younger driver and bumping the rear of Busch's car at one point. The defending champ is 19th in the standings, already 236 points behind Johnson.
The 20-year-old Busch, who was criticized by Stewart at Daytona for being too aggressive on the race track, said he didn't feel he was doing anything wrong but would be glad to talk with Stewart about it.
"With about 40 laps to go, it's time to race and time to get after it and that's what I was doing," last year's top rookie said. "If I did something and aggravated Stewart, well I'm sorry."