NASCAR

Johnson, confident crew chief win passion play

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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Sunday's race was like a play. It had an opening act that established all the stars. It may have been a little boring in the middle, but the finale was grand. It was an exciting finish.

How would you like to lead the most laps, dominate the race and then lose to a guy who only led 25 or 30 yards all day? Matt Kenseth lost to Jimmie Johnson who hadn't led a lap all day, but Johnson was coming at the end of the race. Kenseth had a little bit of a problem with his car, and Johnson learned from a bad experience last year at Atlanta when Carl Edwards beat him with a pass on the outside. With the way Johnson was closing, if Kenseth had moved up in front of the No. 48 car and broken his momentum, it would have wrecked both of them and opened the door for 3rd-place finisher Kyle Busch. Kenseth did all he could. He tried to watch the outside because the front straightaway is so wide. Johnson was so good off of the corners, and he got a good run off of Turn 4, winning the drag race to the start/finish line.

Giving crews credit

I like substitute crew chief Darian Grubb's record with two wins and a 2nd-place finish in three races. He was the most nervous that I've seen him on Sunday, tapping his foot atop the pit box before the green-white-checkered finish. He's a confident young man, and I like the way he looks at everything. Even though Kenseth had a better car than Johnson, the No. 48 team never gave up. The guys in the pits right now, like Grubb and No. 17 crew chief Robbie Reiser, have their act together. They're just getting better and better every week, and the racing is exciting right now. Johnson pulled an old school move after he won the race. He told the flagman, "Give me that flag, and let me ride around here." You can take all of those burnouts — I don't care for them. But I like seeing the winner drive around the track with the checkered flag.

Top 10 countdown

2) Matt Kenseth: The No. 17 team dominated the race in 2004, leading 123 laps. He led a record 146 laps on Sunday, and he did the right thing by not blocking Johnson and causing a crash at the finish.
3) Kyle Busch: A heated battle with Tony Stewart took both drivers out of their rhythm for a while. Busch finally got it back for his second consecutive top-three finish at his home track.
4) Kasey Kahne: It was a good weekend for the No. 9 Busch AND Cup teams. They won Saturday's race and ran in the top four on Sunday. Give Ray Evernham and his team credit. With all of the controversy over the Intrepid vs. the Charger, Evernham stuck with what he knows.
5) Jeff Gordon: The No. 24 team might want to run that green car more often, especially on the mile-and-a-half tracks. Las Vegas is one of his better mile-and-a-half tracks. But he cruised by Stewart to move into the top five for good late in the race.
6) Mark Martin: When you lead the race and get out clean air — like Martin did for 57 laps — it really makes a difference in the performance of the car. Martin got caught back in traffic, and his car didn't run as well. That's a product of the aero package.
7) Jeff Burton: Hard work is starting to pay off for Richard Childress Racing with Kevin Harvick finishing 11th and rookie Clint Bowyer finishing 15th.
8) Greg Biffle drives his car so hard and puts it on the edge all of the time. When he and his team miss the setup, they miss it big. A driver wants the car to be nice and free. He doesn't mind the back-end stepping out a little bit. But if the car gets too loose, you can't go anywhere.
9) Casey Mears: Happy 28th birthday to Mears who had a "hoppy" car. When he got beside another car, it wanted to jump.
Ask DW
10) Denny Hamlin: As his tires started to fade, Hamlin used up a lot of racetrack, moving up toward the wall. But he was able to hang on for a top-10 finish.

Can't wait 'til next year!

As good as the racing was on Sunday, wait until next year. When they put banking in the turns, there will be 250,000 people here next year, particular with such a great finish. If you want an idea of what the Las Vegas Motor Speedway will look like next year, watch next week's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway (Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on FOX). The Diamond in the Desert will have a very similar layout when they get done with it although Atlanta will be a lot faster. We may see speeds over 2-oh-10 mph.
Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart

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