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Five-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson moves up to third after victory at Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Jimmie Johnson didn't qualify where he wanted, and his car never quite cooperated during the final practice session at Kansas Speedway. So he spent Saturday evening in the garage area, going over different setups with the rest of his team.

That attention to detail is a big reason he's chasing his sixth straight Sprint Cup title.

Johnson stormed to the front Sunday at the Hollywood Casino 400, then weathered a series of late cautions before holding off Kasey Kahne in a green-white-checkered finish for his first win since April. It also moved him from fifth to third in the Chase behind Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick.

"I know what my team is capable of," Johnson said, "and we showed today what we're capable of when we're all performing at the top of our game."

"Jimmie was very dedicated (Saturday night) with us, trying to figure out the setup of the car," crew chief Chad Knaus said. "We pored over a lot of combinations, and we came up with a good one."

Johnson led 197 laps in one of the most dominant performances the track has ever seen. The victory was the 55th for Johnson, moving him into a tie with Rusty Wallace for the eighth on the career list, and the 199th for team owner Rick Hendrick.

Jeff Gordon made things interesting until his engine blew up with three laps left.

Johnson chose not to pit before the sprint to the finish but still managed to drive away from Kahne and Brad Kese­lowski on worn-out tires. Kese­lowski, who won the Nationwide race Saturday, finished third and climbed into fourth place in the Chase with six races left.

"It all comes back to having a good team," Keselowski said. "Good teams have good cars, they're the best at the end, the fastest at the end, they have good pit strategy, and they're strong through adversity, and I just have a really good team."

Tony Stewart spent most of the afternoon trying to chase down Johnson and, at times, appeared to have the car to do it. Stewart had climbed 17 spots to sixth after about 50 laps, and at one point he brashly told his team over the radio, "I'm in a hurry … I've got things to do."

A series of mistakes near the end cost him, though. He chose to pit when Gordon brought out the final caution but carried too much speed down pit road and slid through his stall. By the time his team backed him up and changed tires, Stewart had fallen to 17th, and he crossed the finish line in 15th.

Stewart won the first two races of the Chase to vault into the points lead, but he struggled all weekend at Dover and finished 25th. He'll now head to Charlotte eighth.

Edwards and Harvick came in tied for the Chase lead, with the top nine drivers separated by just 19 points. Things shook out a bit Sunday, but Edwards and Harvick are still on top.

Edwards struggled with a tight car all afternoon, and he dropped a lap down at one point, but he got back on the lead lap after a caution and stormed to a fifth-place finish.

The Missouri native climbed out of his car and said he felt as if he'd won.

"We're lucky," Edwards said. "We had two cautions that were timed perfectly, so that was a big deal. We've messed up enough in the past that I'm pretty proud of our ability to take our bad days and keep plugging along. We messed up … in the past, and I believe we've learned from that. It's a little test when you go through this to see if someone melts down."

Edwards leads the Chase by a point over Harvick, who finished sixth.

There are still just 19 points separating the top eight drivers. They're all chasing Johnson.

"He's going to be tough," Kese­lowski said. "The real question is we've got two big wild-card races with Phoenix and Talladega, and I don't think you can rule anyone in or out until those two races are over and we get to Homestead."

Chief optimistic: NASCAR chairman Brian France said despite teams' mounting financial concerns, he believes the economy will not cause long-term problems for the sport. He also confirmed negotiations have begun with Sprint, in the eighth year of a 10-year deal, to remain the title sponsor. The wireless carrier posted its 15th straight quarterly loss in July.

>>fast facts

Sprint Cup points

With six races to go, only these drivers are eligible in the Chase for the Championship:

Driver Pts. Back

Carl Edwards 2,161—

Kevin Harvick 2,160 1

J. Johnson 2,157 4

B. Keselowski 2,150 11

Matt Kenseth 2,149 12

Kurt Busch 2,145 16

Tony Stewart 2,142 19

Kyle Busch 2,141 20

D. Earnhardt Jr. 2,118 43

Jeff Gordon 2,114 47

Ryan Newman 2,107 54

Denny Hamlin 2,082 79

Note: Points unofficial; NASCAR posts official standings today

.fast facts

Gearhead stats

Winner's average speed: 137.181 mph

Time of race: 2 hours, 58 minutes, 27 seconds

Margin of victory: 0.548 seconds

Caution flags: Six for 25 laps

Lead changes: 19 among nine drivers

Lap leaders: Biffle 1-20; Kvapil 21-23; Johnson 24-40; Kenseth 41-64; Biffle 65; Kenseth 66-67; Cassill 68-69; Biffle 70; Johnson 71-84; Biffle 85; Ky.Busch 86-93; Johnson 94-130; J.Gordon 131-132; Johnson 133-206; Keselowski 207; Johnson 208-220; Ku.Busch 221-226; Johnson 227-240; Keselow­ski 241-244; Johnson 245-272

Five-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson moves up to third after victory at Kansas 10/09/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 10, 2011 12:14am]
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