Originally created 09/15/03

Worries don't stop Johnson



LOUDON, N.H. - The only person who wasn't worried about the crash on pit road midway into Sunday's Sylvania 300 was Jimmie Johnson.

The front fender of his Lowe's Chevrolet was crumpled and two crewmen were sent flying onto the hood of Jeff Gordon's car, but Johnson had some inside information that made it possible to remain positive.

"I told everyone not to worry," he said. "I knew we had a great car."

Both crewmen got off Gordon's hood to complete the pit stop, and the dented fender hardly was a problem, especially in the final 30 laps when every lead-lap car tried to use fuel mileage strategy to their advantage.

"With what happened on pit road, and for our guys not to get hurt - I saw them get knocked off the ground and land on the hood - this is unbelievable," said Johnson, who swept this season's races at New Hampshire International Speedway.

"I had to overcome a lot of adversities, and it took the whole team to do it."

Johnson was involved in a bump with Ward Burton on the 148th lap that sent Burton crashing into the second turn wall. After that, Burton tried to retaliate several times, Johnson said.

"It was a racing incident," Johnson said of his run-ins. "He tried to hit me back every time I passed him to put him a lap down. So between dodging the bullet on that first pit stop and taking shots from the 22 (Burton) and that last gas-only stop allowed us to bring it home."

The accident on pit road was bizarre. Johnson, Gordon and Michael Waltrip all stopped on the 127th lap. Gordon tried to cut between Johnson and Waltrip, but bounced off Johnson's car and caromed into Waltrip's back bumper.

The impact with Johnson sent tire carrier Ryan McCray and front tire changer Cory Quick flying onto Gordon's hood, but they jumped off and completed the service. Jack man Chris Anderson also was hit but, like the others, he was not seriously hurt.

Both were taken to the infield care center and quickly released. They were back to their over-the-wall duties in the final 200 laps. In fact, on their next stop, they changed all four tires and filled the gas tank in 13.7 seconds.

The final 30 laps forced every team to play out their fuel mileage strategy. Some teams pushed it too far; others had problems on pit road that eliminated them from contention.

The secret seemed to be stopping early. Johnson and Rudd both stopped with 44 laps to go, allowing them to get an early start on their climb to the top.

Waltrip, second when he stopped with 28 laps to go, pulled away with the gas can still attached to his car. He was forced back to pit road for a stop-and-go penalty that dropped him to 26th.

Sterling Marlin was too fast leaving pit road during his final stop - prompting a stop-and-go penalty. Kevin Harvick was third when he stalled getting gas; Robby Gordon gave up the lead and Jeff Gordon lost second place when they both ran out of gas with eight laps to go.

All that made it easy for Johnson to win his third race of the year. It was his sixth career Winston Cup Series win in just 66 starts and it was worth $200,225.

Rudd was a distant second. His Ford was every bit as fast as Johnson's, but track position kept him from gaining any ground.

"Track position means more than four new tires now," Rudd said. "What you do now is figure out exactly how much gas you need to make it to the end and stretch it out. I don't understand it any more. You can catch a car, but you can't pass it.

"We would run with Jimmie, but it was all pit strategy."

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.