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Sunday, October 5, 2008
Chase leader Johnson feeling fortunate with top-10 run at Dega

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

AP Photo/Dale Davis

Jimmie Johnson (48) avoided this pileup, but fellow Chase contenders Matt Kenseth (17), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) and Greg Biffle (16) didn't.

TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Ninth place never looked so good to Jimmie Johnson.

He avoided the carnage while his two closest rivals in the Chase -- Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle -- wrecked with 15 laps to go.

Johnson now has a 72-point lead over Edwards and a 77-point lead over Biffle with six races remaining.

It pushed Johnson a little closer to joining Cale Yarborough as the only drivers in NASCAR history to win three consecutive Cup championships.

Johnson asked if he was tired of hearing questions about tying Yarborough's 30-year-old record.

"I didn't say you had to stop asking me about it," Johnson said. "It's cool to talk about it. All I'm trying to say is there's a lot of racing until [the season finale at] Homestead.

"But this is the track I fear the most. To come out of here with a top-10 when the guys close to me had problems made today a good day."

Here comes Burton

Jeff Burton may be the sleeper in the Chase. Burton finished fourth Sunday in the No. 31 Chevy, giving him top-10s in all four playoff races and five consecutive events.

Burton is 99 points behind leader Johnson, but only 22 points behind third-place Biffle.

"There is still a lot of good racing left," Burton said. "My [Richard Childress Racing] teammates really helped me out a lot today -- Clint [Bowyer] there at the end and Kevin [Harvick] early in the race.

"I thought all three of us worked really well together. All of us ran well, but more importantly, we came out of here good. Anytime you get a top-5 at Talladega you've got to be happy with it."

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

'Fantastic' day for DEI

Regan Smith

Smith

When the green flag waved for the two-lap overtime finish, Dale Earnhardt Inc. drivers were running second, third and fourth. It didn't end up quite that rosy.

Regan Smith crossed the finish line first, but was placed 18th in the box score for passing below the yellow line. Rookie Aric Almirola got shuffled back to 13th, but Paul Menard had a career-best second-place showing.

All in all, it was a positive ending to a difficult week at DEI. Menard announced Tuesday that he is going to Yates Racing next season, along with the primary sponsorship money of his father's home improvement company.

"It's done," Menard said. "I'm looking forward to next year. I looked at everything on paper and I'm very confident in my decision."

DEI has only one primary sponsor heading into 2009, but DEI president Max Siegel remains optimistic about the future.

"Today was fantastic for our company," Siegel said. "It's really exciting seeing our younger guys working together, competing with those pros out here. We've just got to stay focused and push forward, and I think we're going to be great as an organization."

Not so fantastic for Chasers

Eight of the 12 Chase drivers were involved in an accident Sunday -- Edwards, Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Seven of the playoff drivers finished 20th or worse, including six who failed to finish. Busch finished 15th.

Six of the Chasers now are at least 200 points behind Johnson, including Amp Energy 500 winner Tony Stewart, who is 203 points back in seventh.

Standings