Archive for Sunday, July 15, 2001

Sam’s Club-Hills Bros 300: Johnson claims first Busch Series race

July 15, 2001


— A two-tire stop and a mistake by Ryan Newman helped Jimmie Johnson become a first-time Busch Series winner Saturday in the Sam's Club-Hills Bros 300.

Johnson, winning in his 57th start, came into the pits in third and, thanks to the strategy by crew chief Tony Liberati, rolled back onto the 1.5-mile tri-oval at new Chicagoland Speedway in front of the field.

"We put two Goodyears on the right side and I told him, 'Go. It will be OK,"' Liberati said.

Newman, who dominated the race leading twice for 84 laps was out front before the final stop on the 157th of 200 laps. Taking four tires, he fell to sixth on the restart on lap 161, but picked up two spots on the first green-flag lap and began to stalk Johnson's Chevrolet, moving all the way to second by lap 171.

"I didn't want to look in my mirror," Johnson said. "I knew he was coming."

Newman's Ford moved right up to the leader's rear bumper on lap 185 and hounded Johnson until the two caught the lapped car of Mike McLaughlin four laps from the end.

The 25-year-old Johnson raced past McLaughlin with relative ease, but the 23-year-old Newman made a critical error, clipping the slower car with the left front of his car.

"I was trying to get a run on Jimmie," Newman said. "I got a little too close and if you cut your wheel up to hard on this track you'll wind up in the wall. Unfortunately, I caught too much of him and killed our chances of a win."

The damaged sheet metal cut Newman's left front tire and he ricocheted off the wall. NASCAR put him under a black flag, but Newman, who lost a lap on the track, kept driving slowly to the finish.

After the race, NASCAR penalized Newman two laps and six seconds for ignoring the black flag. He wound up scored in 26th place.

After Newman disappeared from his mirrors, Johnson was able to cruise to a nearly 5-second win over runner-up Mike Skinner. Johnson's best previous finish was fourth in Bristol, Tenn., earlier this season.

The winner averaged 119.469 mph in the race slowed by nine cautions for a total of 47 laps.

Jeff Burton wound up third, followed by Joe Nemechek, Jason Keller and defending series champion Jeff Green.

Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle, the drivers at the top of the Busch Series standings, both had a tough day. Harvick broke a gear during a mid-race pit stop and wound up 27th, while Biffle spun and backed into the wall early in the race and finished 39th in the 43-car field.

That left Harvick, who came into the race with a 102-point lead, out front by 138 after 19 of 33 races. Third-place Keller moved within 30 points of Biffle.

Dan Pardus sustained a lumbar fracture of the lower back in a two-car crash.

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