Johnson races to a repeat at N.H.

LOUDON, N.H. -- There was a time in Sunday's race at New Hampshire International Speedway when Jimmie Johnson was just hoping to salvage a decent finish.

Instead, Johnson withstood a pit accident that sent three of his crewmen flying, an angry competitor he believes was trying to wreck him, and another round of fuel strategy to win the Sylvania 300.

"We had to overcome a lot of adversity and it took the whole team to do it, and we did it," said Johnson, who won his third race of the season and the sixth of his budding career.

In July, Johnson stretched his fuel for the last 93 laps on the way to victory on the 1.058-mile oval. This time, he and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team played another strategy to perfection, giving up the lead to make a lightning fast, fuel-only stop 25 laps from the end.

As the rest of the leaders were forced to pit for gas, Johnson moved closer and closer to the front, finally regaining the top spot on the 294th of 300 laps.

Johnson's teammate and car owner, Jeff Gordon, who took the lead when Johnson pitted, was on a similar strategy but ran out of gas three laps from the end. He got to the pits with a push from Ken Schrader but wound up a lap down in 19th.

Nobody was able to challenge Johnson, a second-year Winston Cup star, after he regained the lead. He drove his Chevrolet across the finish line 6.24-seconds -- about 10 car-lengths -- ahead of runner-up Ricky Rudd.

The race almost got away from Johnson on a pit stop on lap 128 during the first of six caution flags. He had been running second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. before NASCAR spotted debris on the track.

The lead lap cars pitted, and Gordon tried to go between Johnson, who was already stopped in his pit, and Michael Waltrip, who was heading toward the pit directly in front of Johnson and right behind Gordon.

Waltrip didn't see Gordon and slid into him. That sent Gordon's car against the right front of Johnson's and knocked Johnson's right front tire changer, Cory Quick, and tire carrier, Ryan McCray, into the air. Jackman Chris Anderson was also bowled over. All three crewman were bruised, but not seriously hurt.

"When I looked up, I saw two of my guys on the windshield of the 24 going for a ride," Johnson said, referring to Gordon's car. "My jackman also got hit. They got up off the ground in pain and finished the stop and got us out and kept us going all day long.

He had to make an extra pit stop under caution to let his crew check the car for damage and fell to 22nd place, while Gordon dropped to 23rd.

"After that, I thought, 'We're just going to salvage what we can.' I thought it was virtually impossible to get to the front but, once everybody began to string out, I was able to pass and I suddenly found myself in second place."

It almost didn't work out that way as Johnson barely avoided another possible disaster.

"I ended up getting tangled up with Ward Burton (on lap 147) and I'm sorry for that," Johnson said. "He was racing me really hard and I was racing hard, too, and I got loose and caught him going into (turn) one and put him into the wall.

"He was pretty mad. He tried wrecking me four or five times while we were out there under green. I'm just glad nothing happened."

Burton, who drove his battered car to 39th, 30 laps off the pace, left the track without comment. Johnson said he planned to call Burton to make sure he understands the hit was not intentional.

"I have all the respect in the world for Ward Burton," the winner said. "It was just a racing accident."

Johnson, who led a total of only 12 laps Sunday, became the first driver to win both NHIS races in a season since the second event was added in 1997, and the first driver to win two in a row since the first Cup race here in 1993.

Rudd, embroiled in a post-race confrontation with Kevin Harvick last week at Richmond, led for awhile and had no real problems on Sunday.

"We could run with Jimmie but, at the end of the race it was just the way the pit strategy worked out," he said.

Joe Nemechek, another Hendrick driver, who will lose his ride to Busch Series driver Brian Vickers at the end of this season, finished third, followed by Bill Elliott and Earnhardt, who led a race-high 120 laps and gained just a bit of ground on series leader Matt Kenseth.

Kenseth, who came into the race leading Earnhardt by 418 points, finished seventh and goes to Dover next Sunday with a 404-point lead. Harvick, who stalled on his last pit stop and fell to 13th after vying for the win, now trails Kenseth by 463 in third.

Dale Jarrett was tapped from behind by Jimmy Spencer on lap 161 and slammed into the wall on the main straightaway. His car briefly burst into flames, and Jarrett had a very scary moment as the rest of the field raced back to the flagstand as his car sat in the middle of the track.

Jarrett came away with a bruised right knee.

"That's not a good place to be sitting ... knowing they are coming off there hard racing each other," Jarrett said. "I shouldn't have been there to start with if some guys would use their heads."

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