Jimmie Johnson raced to his third victory in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to take control of the championship standings.
Johnson held off teammate Jeff Gordon on a handful of late restarts Saturday night for his sixth career victory at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Although he's long dominated at the track, the win was the Lowe's-sponsored driver's first since 2005.
It came at the perfect time for Johnson, who extended his lead over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin by 90 points as they head to Martinsville Speedway next Sunday. Johnson has won five of the last six races at Martinsville.
Matt Kenseth was second, followed by Kasey Kahne, Gordon and rookie Joey Logano.
Martin finished 17th, his worst finish in the Chase races so far this year.
Childress brushes off Harvick talkRichard Childress doesn't appear to be too concerned about Kevin Harvick's possible departure at the end of the 2010 season.
Childress said Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway that he's focused on helping his struggling team move on following a disastrous 2009, not Harvick's status.
Harvick hinted during a television interview recently that he has no plans to remain at Richard Childress Racing when his contract expires next year.
"We'll just see how everything plays out in the future," Childress said. "I didn't see Kevin's interview. I've heard some comments on it, but whatever happens, happens."
Childress is more concerned about turning around RCR's program, which failed to land any of its four Cup cars in the Chase for the championship a year removed from putting the cars of Harvick, Virginia native Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer in NASCAR's playoffs.
The longtime owner said peaks and valleys are to be expected, but admitted he's a little baffled by the stunning drop-off for one of the series' most successful teams.
"It's such a fine line with this car," Childress said. "If you look at it, other than three, four or five cars people can be off and on and when you get off sometimes it's hard to get back on."
Childress has made several changes during the year in hopes of kick-starting the program. He allowed Harvick and Casey Mears to switch crew chiefs and recently promoted Burton's crew chief, Scott Miller, to RCR's director of competition.
Childress is optimistic the reorganization will pay off and said he's seen progress in recent races. Harvick and Bowyer both ran in the top 10 last week at Auto Club Speedway and Mears has been a pleasant surprise in his first year with the program.
Yet Mears' success doesn't mean he'll be around next season after Jack Daniels pulled its sponsorship of the No. 07 Chevrolet he drives. Childress isn't sure he'll be able to find enough funding to sponsor the car for a full season and has no plans for the car to run a partial schedule.
"We're wanting to run it, we can't turn it into a (start and park)," Childress said. "I don't want to do that. I won't do that. ... We've got some sponsorship for a few races next year, but to be competitive, that isn't the way to do it."
A decision on the No. 07 likely will be made before the season finale at Homestead.
Childress, who won six Cup titles with Dale Earnhardt Sr., has little doubt RCR will return to challenge Hendrick Motorsports atop the series.
"We can see the crest up there, we've just got to be ready for it," he said.
Just win baby? Despite tweaking the regular-season points system to reward drivers who won races, there's still a chance Juan Pablo Montoya could win the title without making his way to Victory Lane.
Montoya entered Saturday night's race at LMS trailing Jimmie Johnson by 58 points.
The Colombian star has four straight top-fives since the Chase began, the kind of consistency that proves his spot in the Chase was no fluke.
If Johnson or Mark Martin falter over the second half of the Chase, Montoya could sneak up and win the title without taking the checkered flag.
And Martin is OK with that.
"To be honest with you, whoever scores the most points wins no matter what," Martin said. "And no matter how many stories you write about it, if a guy won without winning a race ... he would still have the trophy."
— The Associated Press
Chase contenders 1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Mark Martin
3. Jeff Gordon
4. Tony Stewart
5. Kurt Busch
6. Juan Pablo Montoya
7. Greg Biffle
8. Ryan Newman
9. Kasey Kahne
10. Carl Edwards
11. Denny Hamlin
12. Brian Vickers
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