Johnson reels in Gordon to win at Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS - Jimmie Johnson needed luck to win a week ago in California. In Las Vegas, a city of chance, he didn’t need any help at all.
Johnson reeled in teammate Jeff Gordon, who had dominated yesterday’s Shelby American race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, to win for the second consecutive week. He took four tires on the final pit stop, chased Gordon for 17 laps, then finally sailed past his Hendrick Motorsports teammate with 17 laps to go to wrap up the win.
“No luck involved in that one, my friend,’’ crew chief Chad Knaus told Johnson.
The win was the 49th victory of Johnson’s career and fourth at Las Vegas. It also made the four-time defending champion the all-time winningest driver on 1 1/2-mile speedways with 15 victories - one more than Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, and Richard Petty.
Gordon dominated the race, leading 218 of the 267 laps. He was out front when Kevin Conway’s spin brought out the final caution, and debated pitting strategy with crew chief Steve Letarte.
The call was made at the last second for Gordon to come in, and Letarte changed just two tires to get Gordon back on track before the competition. Knaus called for four tires in a decision that put Johnson in fourth on the restart.
Clint Bowyer, who didn’t pit, restarted as the leader with 34 laps to go and the Hendrick cars immediately split him to move back to the front. Gordon held the top spot for 17 trips around, but fretted several times as Johnson looked both inside and out.
“Not much we can do about those four tires,’’ Gordon told his crew. “We’ll give it everything we’ve got.’’
“I’m with you,’’ Letarte replied. “Just do the best you can. Make it hard for him, either way.’’
Gordon tried to hold off Johnson, but he finally scooted past with 17 laps to go. He quickly pulled away, and Gordon was unable to hold off Kevin Harvick as he faded to third.
“If we won the race, we’d look like geniuses, Steve would have. The fact that we lost the race, now Chad looks like a genius,’’ Gordon said. “I talked to Steve briefly after the race. He’s pretty upset obviously. I think he just felt like more people were gonna take two tires. Shoot, we were thinking for a split second to stay out.
“I felt like we needed to come in and get some tires, but I felt like two tires was the right call, too. We just needed [Johnson] to take two. They did the opposite of us. That won the race for them.’’
Harvick, who finished second to Johnson for the second consecutive week, said his Richard Childress Racing team has nothing to prove to Johnson.
The roles were reversed a week ago in California, when a lucky caution put Johnson in the lead. He had Harvick chasing him over the final laps, and Harvick appeared poised to take the win until he brushed the wall late to fall out of contention.
That win frustrated the competition, which has grown tired of Johnson’s four-year reign.
“When you’re a good team, like last week, people were talking about, ‘Man, look how lucky they are,’ ’’ Gordon said of his teammate. “That’s not luck. You do everything you can as a team right, and when everything is clicking, good things happen.’’
But Gordon, for the first time maybe since his classic 2007 battle with Johnson for the championship, thinks his team can keep pace with his one-time protege.
“I’m really very excited about this race team,’’ Gordon said. “I think we’ve got more of what we showed today that we’re going to show a lot more. I think we’re just starting to tap into it.’’