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Richmond, VA (Sports Network) - Jimmie Johnson held off a furious challenge from Tony Stewart in the final 15 laps to win Sunday's Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at the Richmond International Raceway for the second year in a row.
Johnson scored his fourth victory of the season and the 37th of his Sprint Cup career. He also won last week at California. In the last two races, Johnson has added 20 bonus points towards his bid for a third consecutive series title as the "Chase for the Sprint Cup" championship begins next Sunday at New Hampshire.
"We're coming to good tracks," Johnson said. "I think this 48 team is going to be ready for this championship battle."
Johnson also ended the 2007 Cup "regular season" by winning at California and Richmond before heading into the final 10-race "Chase."
The No.48 Chevrolet driver led 32 of the final 34 laps for the win.
While pole sitter Kyle Busch pulled ahead on the first lap, both Greg Biffle and Kevin Harvick clinched their spots in the "Chase." After starting seventh, Harvick was on the move in the early stages as he moved up to second by Lap 17. Busch led the first 28 circuits, but Harvick moved around him to take the top spot.
Due to Tropical Storm Hanna, NASCAR called for a "competition" caution on Lap 35 to allow teams to check for tire wear. Jeff Gordon made a two-tire stop and came out of the pits first. Gordon led the way for the restart on Lap 42, but Harvick immediately moved to the front one lap later.
Carl Edwards had to make an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 74 when he had a tire go down. Edwards was running ninth but rejoined the field 40th.
Denny Hamlin passed Harvick for the lead on Lap 77, but Dale Earnhardt, Jr. pulled around Harvick and then moved up on the back bumper of Hamlin the following lap. Earnhardt, Jr. and Hamlin ran side-by-side until Earnhardt pulled ahead on Lap 80.
Johnny Sauter smacked the wall on Lap 96 to put the race under caution for the second time. Earnhardt, Jr. was quickest out of the pits as he led the field for the restart.
Despite clinching his spot at the start of the race, Biffle made contact with the wall on Lap 115. Biffle came to the pits during the caution to check his damage and fell back to 31st.
On Lap 122, "Chase" contenders Matt Kenseth and David Ragan made contact and slid into the wall. Both Roush Fenway Racing drivers suffered minor damage to their cars but were able to remain on the lead lap. Kenseth fell to 33rd, while Ragan dropped to 34th after their incident.
Earnhardt, Jr. continued to be the fastest out of the pits as he beat Harvick by inches during a round of stops on a caution. Juan Pablo Montoya and Elliott Sadler spun in separate areas of the track on Lap 164.
Harvick moved ahead of Earnhardt, Jr. to reclaim the lead on Lap 172. Harvick ran out in front for the next 13 circuits before Busch made a three-wide pass on Harvick and Earnhardt, Jr. for the top spot.
The caution flag waved for the seventh time at the half-way point when Sam Hornish, Jr. and Martin Truex, Jr. made contact and spun. Mark Martin inherited the lead when Busch came in for his stop, but Busch was back out in front with Earnhardt, Jr. in second for the restart on Lap 208.
But four laps later, Earnhardt, Jr. moved up on the back bumper of Busch's car. Busch got loose and made contact with Junior, putting Busch in a spin. The No.18 Toyota driver came in for repairs during the caution and for another caution that came several laps later when Sadler spun again after suffering a flat tire. Busch spun again on Lap 241 and fell all the way to 40th.
Stewart made a pass between Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt, Jr. to grab the lead for the first time on Lap 236. Stewart ran out in front until he pitted during a caution on Lap 243. That allowed David Reutimann to capture the lead for the first time.
Stewart restarted sixth but moved up to second by Lap 275 as Reutimann held a four second advantage over him.
Reutimann finally pitted for four fresh tires and fuel after Brian Vickers made contact with the wall on Lap 298. Reutimann was the fastest out of the pits and continued to lead the way.
After his incident with Kenseth earlier in the race, Ragan made his way up to the 17th spot on Lap 335, but Ragan made contact with Clint Bowyer and was then hit by Regan Smith, which put him back into the 29th spot. Bowyer kept his 16th position.
Reutimann led 104 circuits before Stewart passed him for the top spot on Lap 349. Stewart held the position until he pitted during the 13th caution which came on Lap 358 for an incident involving Scott Riggs. Martin Truex, Jr. won the battle out of the pits and led the field for the restart on Lap 364.
Johnson caught Truex as they ran side-by-side in traffic before Johnson finally pulled away on Lap 367.
Stewart came on strong in the final laps as he pulled even with Johnson with less than 15 laps remaining. The two ran side-by-side with Stewart taking the lead with 10 laps to go, but Johnson pulled back in front with eight remaining. Stewart made a valiant effort to catch Johnson but could not pull it off at the end.
Johnson beat Stewart to the finish line by 0.365 seconds.
"You just don't want to be giving up spots, but we had a good day," Stewart said. "We got the big prize which means we are in the 'Chase'."
Hamlin, Earnhardt, Jr. and Martin completed the top-five.
Bowyer finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot in the "Chase for the Sprint Cup" championship.
"I knew we would go through so much emotion," Bowyer said. "It was a roller coaster. We lost track position and had a couple of bad pit stops, but we kept our heads together."
Bowyer finished 69 points ahead of 13th-place Kasey Kahne and 78 markers in front of 14th-place Ragan. Kahne finished 19th, while Ragan came in 32nd.
"It's very disappointing," Ragan said. "We had a top-five car, but just seemed to turn a corner sometime after Lap 100 and didn't have the speed and seemed to have poor track position from there."
09/07 18:08:21 ET
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