Million Dollar Payday For JJ

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CONCORD, N.C. - Jimmie Johnson was the cream of the crop Saturday night as the sophomore driver drove to a $1 million payday in "The Winston" all-star race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. He became the 13th different winner of the event.

"He is the best driver I have ever seen at Lowe's Motor Speedway," crew chief Chad Knaus said.

Kurt Busch and Bobby Labonte trailed Johnsoon across the finish line with the Top 5 rounded out by Joe Nemechek and Michael Waltrip.

Only 12 cars started the final 20 lap segment of the three part event, which was open to 14 starters, after a late race accident in the middle segment knocked out Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Mark Martin, Terry Labonte and Dale Jarrett. The first ten finishers of the segment were inverted by a fans' choice poll which put Jeff Gordon and Sterling Marlin on the front row.

Johnson quickly moved around Gordon, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate and co-owner of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, from his fourth starting spot in the final segment and never looked back on his way to the record-setting win.

"Last year we thought we had it after the first two segments, but it didn't work out," said Johnson, who dominated the first two segments of the event a year ago. "So this year we played our cards right and focused on the big prize and went out and got it."

Johnson was the pre-race pick of Lowe's Motor Speedway president and GM "Humpy Wheeler," running his string of correct predictions to 9 of the last 15 "The Winston" all-star races.

"Humpy puts a lot of pressure on you when he picks you," Knaus said. "He came down before the race and reminded us how we had to win, so the pressure was on."

Stewart was the winner of the first segment and picked up a $50,000 bonus while Busch was victorious in the second segment.

"I think next year I'm going to take the weekend off and somebody else can drive for this race," said Stewart after his segment two-ending wreck. "It's starting to become not worth it. I want to be in racing a long time and I don't want to get wrecked in a non-points race that had turned out to be a hackfest every year."

Last year's winner Ryan Newman was involved in a segment two accident and was furious thinking Stewart caused his ALLTEL Dodge to crash. But television replays showed there was no contact.

"I thought Tony hit me and they say he didn't," Newman said. "I was going down the straightaway and it turned around on me, so I don't know what happened. I could have sworn Tony hit me."

Jeff Burton earned his way into the field with a win in the "Winston Open" preliminary event.





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