Sports

Johnson rolls on into Chase

RICHMOND, Va. — Jimmie Johnson has momentum on his side and history in sight.

Never mind that Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards dominated the regular season, the Chase is Johnson's time of the year and the two-time defending NASCAR champion isn't turning his title over without a fight.

He won Sunday at Richmond International Raceway to grab his second consecutive win, fourth overall this season, to take a big boost into the Chase for the championship. Johnson is trying to become the first driver to win three straight titles since Cale Yarborough (1976-78).

"I do think about it," admitted Johnson, "but the less I think about it, the better I'm going to be. The less I can think about all this stuff the last 10 races, the better I am going to be. I just need to fall back to the confidence I have in my race team and my abilities.

"If you show up and you're swinging for the fences every time, you're going to make mistakes."

Busch, winner of eight Cup wins this season, is the top seed in the Chase. Edwards is second based on his six victories, and Johnson is third. They are the only three drivers in the field with multiple wins, and five of the contenders start the Chase winless.

Edwards, however, believes all 12 drivers will have a shot at the title when the 10-race Chase begins next Sunday in New Hampshire.

"Anything can happen," he said. "I think it's going to be defined by your bad days."

There were plenty of those on Sunday: Busch was wrecked twice — once by Dale Earnhardt Jr. while leading — and David Ragan had on-track miscues that eliminated him from Chase contention.

Ragan and Kasey Kahne were the only two drivers trying to race their way into the Chase. Ragan put on a gutsy push before contact with other cars ended his run with a 32nd-place finish.

"Regardless of how we ended today, I told everyone before the race whether we made the Chase or not, it wasn't going to be solely on the Richmond race," Ragan said.

Kahne finished 19th, giving the final Chase spot to Clint Bowyer.

"I drove everything I could all day," Kahne said. "It was a long day in the pits — we came out close to last almost every time."

Busch had a rough day in his final tuneup for his title run, starting with the wreck with Earnhardt that delighted the crowd. It was a reverse of the May race here, when Busch wrecked Earnhardt when Earnhardt was leading.

Earnhardt said Sunday's contact wasn't deliberate.

"If I wreck somebody, I ain't going to leave him in good enough shape to come back and get me in the same race," Earnhardt said. "I really ain't never wrecked anybody on purpose. If I wanted to do it, I would do it really, really good."

Busch finished 15th and downplayed the incident.

"Was that revenge? Who knows?" he said.

Edwards also had a long day after an early tire problem relegated him to the pack. He finished 13th.

Johnson, meanwhile, was steady all day and eventually passed Tony Stewart and Martin Truex for the lead with 34 laps to go. He then had to hold off Stewart's late challenge.

"That's how you want to win a race — going against the best in the business and Tony is certainly one of those guys," Johnson said.

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