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Johnson survives flag mixup, wins record-slow Pocono 500

LONG POND, PA. — LONG POND, Pa. - Nextel Cup driver Jimmie Johnson won the Pocono 500 yesterday, but he had to overcome a major NASCAR blunder to do it.

Johnson had listened closely at the pre-race drivers' meeting and knew pit road would be closed the first time he passed it after a caution flag came out. So when the caution came out on Lap 155, he simply tried to catch up to the pace car.

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"I'm doing my job as the leader of the race," Johnson said. "I don't even look over at the flag because it's my first time by. I look in the mirror and ... everybody's hit pit road. We did the right thing, but we were fortunate it didn't cost us the race."

The official at the end of pit road either put out a red flag to Johnson and then changed it to green - as driver Brian Vickers said - or wrongly showed the green flag to the entire field, as NASCAR president Mike Helton was told by the official.

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"We can go back to the tape and look for that, but it won't make it better or worse," Helton said. "It was our mistake. ... Those who did not pit did exactly what they were supposed to do, and those who saw the green flag and came down pit road did nothing wrong.

"We analyzed it as quickly as we could for a quick fix, and there just wasn't any. ... We will spend a good deal of time this week to fix the quality of our officiating."

It was the second straight week NASCAR has had officiating problems. A week ago at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, it took the sanctioning body 24 laps to figure out the running order and settle arguments with the competitors during one caution period.

Helton responded to that embarrassment by saying Friday the situation was "unacceptable" and the organization would use a completely electronic scoring system in yesterday's race. He said that system worked perfectly.

He also said officials would try to shorten the caution periods by opening the pits on the leader's second pass of the pit road entrance after a caution flag was displayed. That didn't work as well.

It was that rule that caused most of yesterday's chaos, but there was more.

With 11 laps to go, Matt Kenseth bumped Kevin Harvick as they slowed for a yellow flag. That led Harvick to spin out Kenseth when another flag appeared five laps later.

During that latter caution, as NASCAR officials were trying to get the race restarted with at least two laps to go, Kenseth intentionally spun Harvick, a situation in which dirt and other debris was thrown on the track, making a restart impossible.

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The race ended under yellow, with Johnson leading Jeremy Mayfield, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch across the finish line. Johnson averaged 112.129 mph to win the slowest race at the track since it opened in 1974.

Last week's race at Dover was the slowest on record, too, marking the first time a race there had been run under 100 mph since it opened in 1969.

"NASCAR is an easy target right now," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished sixth and held on to his series points lead. "I wouldn't wish their job on anyone. But it was an honest mistake, and they had their hands full."

All but four cars - those of Johnson, Terry Labonte, Jamie McMurray and Kenseth - entered pit road on Lap 155, leaving Johnson and company to pit a few laps later and emerge far back in the field, trying to figure out their next moves.

All but Kenseth, who was dropped from an 11th-place finish to 21st for his antics with Harvick (who went from 10th to 20th), finished in the top 10.

"I did what I was supposed to do, and I got the short end of the stick," said Johnson, whose No. 48 Chevrolet led 126 of the 200 laps.

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"If we hadn't recovered to win, I'd be furious. But in the end, I think this makes my team look stronger because we were able to overcome and win."

NASCAR Nextel Cup Pocono 500

At Long Pond, Pa. Lap length: 2.5-mile triangular-oval (Starting position in parentheses)

1. (5) Jimmie Johnson, Chevy, 200 laps, $186,950

2. (7) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 200, $149,495

3. (17) Bobby Labonte, Chevy, 200, $139,953

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4. (6) Jeff Gordon, Chevy, 200, $132,858

5. (27) Kurt Busch, Ford, 200, $95,600

6. (16) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevy, 200, $121,718 7. (19) Terry Labonte, Chevy, 200, $96,640 8. (13) Robby Gordon, Chevy, 200, $98,377 9. (14) Jamie McMurray, Dodge, 200, $75,390 10. (21) Casey Mears, Dodge, 200, $82,090

11. (9) Greg Biffle, Ford, 200, $71,240

12. (12) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 200, $96,183

13. (2) Brian Vickers, Chevy, 200, $71,215

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14. (1) Kasey Kahne, Dodge, 200, $107,990

15. (32) Jeff Green, Dodge, 200, $87,740

16. (40) Scott Riggs, Chevy, 200, $89,777

17. (26) Ward Burton, Chevy, 200, $59,290

18. (3) Joe Nemechek, Chevy, 200, $85,090

19. (35) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 200, $84,696

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20. (23) Kevin Harvick, Chevy, 200, $95,593

21. (15) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 200, $105,918

22. (37) P.J. Jones, Dodge, 198, $57,790

23. (33) Jimmy Spencer, Chevy, 198, $68,890

24. (39) Jeff Burton, Ford, 196, engine, $90,632

25. (18) Ken Schrader, Dodge, 196, $56,915

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26. (10) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 195, engine, $88,082

27. (8) Tony Stewart, Chevy, 194, $100,393

28. (43) Geoffrey Bodine, Ford, 194, $53,465

29. (29) Dave Blaney, Chevy, 191, $63,790

30. (11) R. Newman, Dodge, 183, accident, $100,007

31. (20) S. Marlin, Dodge, 176, accident, $86,490

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32. (30) R. Wallace, Dodge, 167, accident, $96,673

33. (22) M. Waltrip, Chevy, 166, accident, $89,621

34. (34) Ricky Craven, Chevy, 152, engine, $68,829

35. (24) S. Wimmer, Dodge, 125, accident, $60,265

36. (4) Mark Martin, Ford, 112, engine, $60,065

37. (25) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 101, engine, $51,900

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38. (41) M. Shepherd, Dodge, 71, handling, $51,785

39. (31) B. Gaughan, Dodge, 59, engine, $59,660

40. (42) K. Shelmerdine, Ford, 42, wheel, $51,505

41. (38) Carl Long, Dodge, 39, accident, $51,365

42. (28) T. Bodine, Dodge, 11, overheating, $51,275

43. (36) K. Lepage, Chevy, 9, overheating, $51,459.

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Race statistics

Winner's average speed: 112.129 mph. Time of race: 4 hours, 27 minutes, 33 seconds. Margin of victory: Under caution. Caution flags: 11 for 57 laps. Lead changes: 30 among 16 drivers Series points leaders: 1. D. Earnhardt Jr. 2,113. 2. J. Johnson 2,055. 3. M. Kenseth 1,889. 4. J. Gordon 1,874. 5. T. Stewart 1,854. 6. B. Labonte 1,812. 7. K. Busch 1,803. 8. E. Sadler 1,773. 9. K. Harvick 1,735. 10. R. Newman 1,674.


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