Late Night Win For Johnson

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CONCORD, N.C. - NASCAR's longest race of the year was even longer this year.

But in the end, it was worth the wait.

Jimmie Johnson beat Bobby Labonte in a photo finish to score his third straight win at Lowe's Motor Speedway and a victory in the caution-filled Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night.

Johnson drove around the outside of Labonte as the duo exited the fourth turn and headed for the checkered flag. Johnson's Lowe's Chevy nipped Labonte's FedEx Monte Carlo by .027-seconds to score his third consecutive Coca-Cola 600 win.

"Three 600 wins, that's amazing," Johnson said in victory lane. "It will sink in as the days wear on. Today, regardless of the record book, regardless of what was going on, we just wanted to have a solid race. We did that, and went into the record books at the same time."

However not everyone was as happy with the outcome as Johnson. A smattering of boos cascaded from the grandstand as he pulled into victory lane and a bottle was thrown at Johnson's car.

Labonte looked like he was on his way to ending a 47-race winless draught until the final lap when Johnson ran him down and outran him to the finish line.

"I knew if I could get to Bobby's quarterpanel, I could beat him," Johnson said. "I got underneath Bobby on the white flag and I made a mistake, I got sideways. But I knew if I got to his outside, I'd beat him to the line."

Labonte, carrying Joe Gibbs Racing teammate's Jason Leffler's sponsor FedEx on his car, had started 43rd in the field. Although coming up short of a victory, Labonte seemed satisfied with the outcome.

"It really wasn't a great car, it just was a car that contended at the end for the win," Labonte said. "I just wish there was one less lap."

The 600-mile grind generated a NASCAR race record 22 caution flags as well as a red flag with nine laps to go when then leader Joe Nemechek blew a tire and hit the wall. Damage to the SAFER Barrier caused officials to stop the cars on track to repair the wall.

The previous record was 20 at Bristol Motor Speedway which saw that happen three times; in April of 1989 and matched in April of 1997 and August of 2003.

The track's new surface, which produced record speeds in qualifying but proved a challenge to drivers trying to pass all weekend, seemed to be the cause for the rash of accidents. Among the drivers who were involved in crashes Sunday night were Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Michael Waltrip.

Earnhardt, Jr. actually ran into the back of his DEI teammate Waltrip to trigger a multi-car incident about midway through the race that Kenseth was caught up in.

"It's just so hard to pass," Kenseth said. "Dale Jr. got by me while I was trying to pass Michael. The conditions are OK, but it's impossible to pass. Unless a miracle happens, the fastest car won't win the race."

At one point the track, which went through a grinding process to smooth out the surface, coughed up a piece of sealer, which was applied when the track began to come apart during practice and qualifying. Jeff Gordon's car was damaged by the flying piece of track debris, which caused damage to the DuPont Chevrolet.

"The problem is not with the asphalt, it is with the crack sealer and that is not abnormal," said track president Humpy Wheeler.

Carl Edwards finished third followed by Jeremy Mayfield and Ryan Newman.

The rest of the top 10: Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Dale Jarrett, Ken Schrader and Rusty Wallace.

Johnson maintained his series point lead and now is on top by 71 over Greg Biffle with Elliott Sadler, Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon rounding out the Top 5.

The NEXTEL Cup Series now heads to Dover International Speedway for next Sunday's MBNA Racepoints 400.



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