Gordon, Johnson set pace

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CONCORD, N.C. - They are teammates that share information and strategies before every race. But once the green flag waves, they share the same desire to win.

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson admit they have a unique relationship. They push each other to succeed, knowing the other is their biggest challenge to win the series championship.

Gordon and Johnson have been the two best drivers during the regular season, combining to win 10 races. Gordon won last week's race at Talladega, Ala., to take a scant nine-point lead over his teammate into the Bank of America 500 on Saturday night.

As the playoffs work toward the final lap at Homestead, Fla., next month, both Gordon and Johnson know their working relationship may change. But nothing, they insist, will affect their personal relationship.

"It definitely has its challenges but I'd rather be faced with that challenge than actually a competitor because we do know what we have," Gordon said. "And when one of us is strong and one of us is not, we share information.

"I want this championship to come to Hendrick Motorsports. If I can't win it, then I definitely want a Hendrick Motorsports teammate of mine to win it. Ever since Jimmie came on board at HMS, he's pushed me."

Hendrick has worked through the same kind of problems before. Gordon and Terry Labonte finished one-two in the championship in 1996.

Labonte clinched the championship by 37 points by finishing fifth in the finale.

Gordon and Johnson have been able to match each other for most of the year. Proir to Saturday's race, Johnson had six wins this year; Gordon had five. And at Lowe's, Johnson had five career victories; Gordon had four.

It's becoming apparent Hendrick will have another in-house competition for the championship this year.

"I think it's made me a better driver," Johnson said. "And so I like the friendly rivalry, the competition that we built that has brought. I think it's elevated all the teams at Hendrick having the two of us being as competitive against one another, and the other teams as well out there.

"Yes, it does have its challenges though. It creates some separation within the team, but that's normal. That's very common. To this date, it's still the best I've ever seen it as far as how we share information. And yet we're fierce competitors. And so we're going to treat it accordingly. But right now, everything is looking good."

Reach Don Coble at don.coble@morris.com.

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