Johnson Sweeps Atlanta

It wasn't easy, but Jimmie Johnson scored his second straight NEXTEL Cup win Sunday.

Johnson survived two wild late race melees including one during an attempt at a green-white-checkered finish to win the Pep Boys 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

It was Johnson’s third sweep of the season, along with Richmond and Martinsville, and came after his win in last Sunday's Subway 500.

Johnson's eighth victory of the season pulled to to within nine points of his teammate Jeff Gordon for the lead in the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup standings.

Johnson will donate the winnings from his 31st career win to the American Red Cross to support relief efforts for the California Wildfire Relief Fund.

A call to take only two tires during the day's last pit stop was the right one by Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, who gained the necessary track position to put them in the lead group.

"The only way we are going to catch the 24 the way they are running is to race for the win," Knaus said. "We were able to get the lead with a two-tire change when I saw the others take on four tires."

Gordon, who led Johnson by 53 coming into Sunday's race, finished seventh.

"I'm just happy to have a points lead now after the day we had," Gordon said. "It wasn't a great performance for us today. We got it turned around too late. We really fixed it for the short runs. If we had a five-lap run, we would have given them a run for their money on four tires."

Johnson is trying to run down his teammate for a second straight title.

"I just think it's going to be a fight to the end," Johnson said. "We took a good bite out of Jeff's points lead today and it's going to come down to a position or two in the next three.

"Now, I feel very good about where we are in the points. We can go lead laps, we can try to lead the most laps and really race for this championship over the next three races. I'm very excited about that."

Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth were leading the race on lap 318 of the 325 circuit event at the 1.5-mile speedway but along with the rest of the lead pack were running low on fuel.

But when Johnny Sauter's blown tire brought out the 11th caution, the front five ducked to pit road.

Sixth place Denny Hamlin elected not to pit and inherited the lead.

However when the green flag flew on lap 323, Hamlin ran out of gas as the cars crossed the start-finish line and set-up a chain reaction crash that started when Martin Truex, Jr. rammed his rear bumper.

“It took off and then it stopped,” Hamlin said. “When it cut off, I pulled down the middle and I was just waiting to get hit from behind.”

That brought out a record 12th caution and Johnson was the new leader with Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. behind and ready for a green-white-checkered finish.

The race resumed on lap 328 but suddenly a wheel left Earnhardt's car sending him into the wall. Jamie McMurray was caught up in the crash and the race ended under caution, seaslin the win for Johnson.

Edwards was behind Johnson when the race was called official and was credited with second. Reed Sorenson, Kenseth and Jeff Burton rounde dout the top five.

Clint Bowyer, Gordon, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers completed the first ten finishers.

The NEXTEL Cup Series now heads to Texas Motor Speedway for next Sunday's Dickies 500.

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