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Father-to-be Johnson cradles consecutive wins

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Loudon, NH (Sports Network) - When Jimmie Johnson recently went 10 races without a victory, many speculated that the four-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion was in a season-slump. Now that Johnson has won back-to-back races at Sonoma, CA and New Hampshire, it's time to put that theory to rest.

Thanks in part to Marcos Ambrose's misfortune in the closing laps at Sonoma, Johnson claimed his first road course win. Ambrose held the lead during a caution with seven laps remaining, but lost his track position after he turned his engine off to conserve fuel and then had trouble restarting the car. That allowed second-place Johnson to take the lead for good.

It was a different story for Johnson in New Hampshire, where he had his hands full with Kurt Busch in the closing laps. Just after the final restart with eight laps to go, Busch made a bump-and-run move on Johnson to take the lead.

But Johnson was set on returning the favor, and doing so with aggression.

Jimmie Johnson claimed his first road course win at Sonoma.
"I was livid," Johnson said. "I was so [ticked] off that he got into me, and I almost lost it at one point. Just kind of sliding and it took off and the tires started chattering, and that's usually when you're turned around.

"Once I got back going and I was still in second, I thought, 'Man, I hope I catch you. I look forward to this if I catch you.' And my incentive was not necessarily to pass him. All I had to do was get to his bumper, and I was going to win the race, if he gave me that option by moving me out of the way."

Johnson reeled in Busch and then pulled even with him before Johnson made the winning pass with less than two laps to go.

Unlike some races this season, Johnson and Busch prevented New Hampshire from erupting into a post-race pit road skirmish.

"The thought was ten points winning would look a lot better stacked in our deck than his chip count, that was the original thought," said Busch, who ended up finishing third after Tony Stewart passed him on the final lap. "Driving into turn three, I had all intentions of passing him on the inside and trying to cut underneath him at the apex. I just got into him a little bit in the left rear and nudged him up, and we were able to squeak on by.

"Your motive is always to pass a guy clean, and you always want to make sure that when you do pass him that he's not completely upset with you, and then we'll go and race again, if he's going to come back and try to pass me at the end. He did, and he did great."

Johnson's fifth win placed him in a tie with Denny Hamlin for most victories in the series so far this season. Each driver who qualifies for the championship Chase is awarded 10 bonus points for each race he wins during the regular season. There are nine races remaining before the Chase begins in September at New Hampshire.

"The ten points are really important," Johnson said. "It's nice to be even with Denny, and to have a gap on some of the other guys right now."

Indeed, these are good times for Johnson. His wife, Chandra, is expected to deliver the couple's first child any day soon. If her delivery occurs during an upcoming race weekend, Camping World Truck Series regular Aric Almirola will serve as Johnson's backup driver.

Daytona (July 3) and Chicagoland (July 10) are the next races on the schedule before Sprint Cup takes its second-to-last off-weekend of the season.

"I know it's kind of a weird situation," Johnson said. "[Almirola] is really hoping for the opportunity, and I know he'll do an amazing job given the opportunity, and then I want to stay in my ride and try to win as many races as I can.

"It just all depends on when the little baby decides to make her move and when she wants to come into the world, and if she's anything like her mother, she'll be late, so I should be fine, which puts us into the off-weekend, nice and deep."

In recent years, it's usually Tony Stewart who heats up in the summer time. It appears Johnson has replaced Stewart as the summer sensation this year. If Johnson remains hot for the next couple of months, just imagine what he will be like during Chase, the time when he really shines.
Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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