Johnson stays hot, win Pocono 500

Monday, June 14, 2004

LONG POND, Pa. -- Jimmie Johnson was the picture of cool after his trip to Victory Lane, mugging for cameras, swigging champagne and using a little math to figure out how close he was to the points lead.

He hardly looked like a driver who almost had a win pulled out from under him.

Johnson used a near-flawless performance to overcome a NASCAR mistake and won another caution-filled race Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

"We were just fast all the way through," Johnson said. "The pit stops were fast, the race car was fast, the driver was fast."

Johnson controlled most of the Pocono 500 for his second win in three weeks, third this year and ninth of his career. He's led 820 miles in the last three races and has two more seconds in his last five.

Johnson put aside a disappointing 32nd-place finish last week at Dover, when he was one of the many causalities of a 19-car pileup that led to several caution rules changes for this race.

At Pocono, he was almost a victim of NASCAR's ever-changing, and often confusing, rules.

The pit road official opened the service lane one lap too early during a late caution period. As a result, Johnson, the leader, was unable to pit while most of the cars behind him did. He had to pit later and it cost him the front spot on the restart.

Instead of penalizing the violators, NASCAR let the field stand. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus said they never received an explanation from NASCAR.

Johnson, though, raced his way back to the front, then built on his lead on several late restarts on the 2 1/2-mile triangular track. He led 126 of the 200 laps and took the lead for good on lap 174.

Still, the pit road mix-up bothered Johnson.

"Fortunately, we didn't lose the race over it, but I was very upset at the time that things weren't corrected to give us the track position back," Johnson said.

Jeremy Mayfield, who has two of his three career victories at Pocono, finished second. He pushed Johnson hard inside and was about a car-length behind when another yellow flag came out with three laps left.

Mayfield said the cautions had little affect on the finish.

"The best car won the race today," he said. "It would be different if somebody who hadn't been running up front all day won."

Bobby Labonte, who won the 1999 Pocono 500 and the 1999 and 2001 Pennsylvania 500, was third.

Complete results in Scoreboard on Page 2B.

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