Racing Roundup: Jimmie Johnson Turns the Hat Trick in Las Vegas

Adam AmickSenior Writer IMarch 12, 2007
It was a busy weekend on the national racing circuit, with major events in the Nextel Cup, Busch, AMA Superbike, and Formula XTreme Series. Bleacher Report's Adam Amick gets you up to speed on all the latest action.
NASCAR Nextel Cup Series

Jimmie Johnson has replaced Elvis as the King in Vegas.  Sunday, he took his third-straight win at the newly-rebuilt Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the UAW-Daimler Chrysler 400 NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race. 
Johnson's triumph will go down in history as the 150th victory for team owner Rick Hendrick, and the defending Cup champion's first win of the young season.  The victory-lane celebration was most fitting, with all four Hendrick drivers and crews getting in on the party.

What was probably most remarkable—though not unexpected for fans of the number 48 car—was the adversity Johnson and his team overcame for the win.  Talk about a rally cap: Johnson qualified 23rd, but three early cautions and clever pit strategy from crew chief Chad Knauss put the 48 out front. 
Still, a mistake by his pit crew would eventually cost Johnson for the second race in a row—though only temporarily.  When a tire rolled out of Johnson's pit box, the resulting penalty put the Lowe's Chevy at the back of the field.  Luckily, the error occurred early enough to allow Johnson time to recover—as opposed to the late-race stop that cost him a sure victory at Fontana two weeks ago.
Johnson went on to race his way through the field on the LVMS's treacherous new surface—even correcting out of a slide off turn two at one point—and took command to win by over a second.
Johnson's teammate/car owner Jeff Gordon used some savvy pit strategy of his own to overcome a poor qualifying run and get out in front of the field early.  Gordon's no. 24 DuPont/Nicorette Chevy was sporting a new paint scheme Sunday—and after a few handling adjustments was running like the Rainbow Warrior of old.  Though he wasn't able to pull off the victory, Gordon led the most laps on the day and picked up ten bonus points.
His third top-10 and second consecutive runner-up finish puts the four-time champion just behind Mark Martin in the points after three races—a strong start the 24 team hasn't enjoyed in several years.
Speaking of Martin, he quietly led a lap to score five bonus points, and still finished fifth despite fading late.  That's three races and three top-fives for the partially-retired veteran, who finds himself on top of the Nextel Cup standings going into race four next weekend at Atlanta. 
Martin showed signs of cracking in his defense of his part-time schedule, saying that if his crew gives him a win next week, he'll rethink sitting out race five at Bristol.
Denny Hamlin finished third, and Matt Kenseth followed up his win at California with a strong fourth-place showing.  Hamlin jumped up 10 spots to eighth overall, and Kenseth moved up to fifth in the standings—just 98 points behind former teammate Martin.
The nine cautions during the race indicated a level of driving skill which was lacking—even from Cup drivers—during Saturday's Busch race.  Robby Gordon continued to show why he's safer when he's racing off-road, trying an aggressive low pass going into turn one early in the race.  The result: Casey Mears and Ward Burton fell victim to "Crash" Gordon, and went on to finish 40th and 43rd, respectively. The unsponsored Gordon continued on with minimal damage to a 17th-place result.
For all the complaining about the treacherous track conditions, most of the crashes were unavoidable—one car would get loose, and a closely-following driver would be unable to avoid contact.  Such was the case with Joe Nemechek, who lost grip coming off of turn four and was turned sideways into the wall by Clint Bowyer. The lap 17 crash also affected Dave Blaney, who put his Camry into the wall as he tried to avoid Nemechek.
Other notables in the UAW-Daimler Chrysler included Tony Stewart in seventh; Dale Earnhardt Jr., 11th; Bobby Labonte, 13th; Juan Pablo Montoya, 22nd; Kevin Harvick, 27th; and Kasey Kahne, 35th—after crashing late in the race.
NASCAR Busch Series
On Saturday, Jeff Burton raced around Kyle Busch to win the Sam's Town 300 Busch Series race at LVMS.  Busch lost control at the end and spun across the finish line in second place before hitting the wall. 
He also showed real sportsmanship by shaking Burton's hand on pit road after the incident. The wreck was a result of hard racing by Busch—not any wrongdoing from Burton.
Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, and David Stremme rounded out the top five at Vegas, with point-leading Carl Edwards finishing seventh. Shane Huffman was the best non-Cup driver, finishing ninth, and rookie Marcos Ambrose from Australia was tenth.
AMA Superbike and Formula XTreme Series

Saturday also saw the end of Bike Week at Daytona Speedway, with the AMA Superbike and Formula XTreme Series racing on the combined superspeedway and road course circuit.  Defending series champion Ben Spies rode his Suzuki GSX-R1000 to win the Superbike race over Miguel Duhamel, and teammates Steve Rapp and Ben Attard would finish one-two for Kawasaki in the 66th Annual Daytona 200 Formula XTreme race.

Coming Up

Next weekend, the top-three NASCAR Series will visit Atlanta Motor Speedway.  Because restrictor plates are used at Daytona and Talladega, Atlanta is generally known as the fastest track on the circuit. Kasey Kahne will look to rebound from his crash at Vegas to defend his strong showing last spring at the 1.5-mile double dog-leg "D" oval, where he sat on the pole and won. Down under, meanwhile, Fernando Alonso will start the defense of his second consecutive Formula One World Championship on Sunday at the Australian Grand Prix.