LAS VEGAS — Jimmie Johnson needed luck to win a week ago in California. In Las Vegas, a city of chance, he didn’t need any help at all.
Johnson reeled in teammate Jeff Gordon, who had dominated Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, to win for the second consecutive week. He took four tires on the final pit stop, chased Gordon for 17 laps, then finally sailed past his Hendrick Motorsports teammate with 17 laps to go to wrap up the win.
“No luck involved in that one, my friend,” crew chief Chad Knaus told Johnson.
The win was the 49th victory of Johnson’s career and fourth at Las Vegas. It also made the four-time defending champion the all-time winningest driver on 1.5-mile speedways with 15 victories — one more than Gordon, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.
Gordon dominated the race, leading 218 of the 267 laps while searching for his first victory in almost a year. He was out front when Kevin Conway’s spin brought out the final caution, and debated pitting strategy with crew chief Steve Letarte.
The call was made at the last second for Gordon to come in, and Letarte changed just two tires to get Gordon back on track before the competition. Knaus called for four tires in a decision that put Johnson in fourth on the restart.
Clint Bowyer, who didn’t pit, restarted as the leader with 34 laps to go and the Hendrick cars immediately split him to move back to the front. Gordon held the top spot for 17 trips around the track, but fretted several times as Johnson looked both inside and out.
“Not much we can do about those four tires,” Gordon told his crew. “We’ll give it everything we’ve got.”
“I’m with you,” Letarte replied. “Just do the best you can. Make it hard for him, either way.”
Gordon tried to hold off Johnson, but he finally scooted past with 17 laps to go. He quickly pulled away, and Gordon was unable to hold off Kevin Harvick as he faded to third.
“If we won the race, we’d look like geniuses, Steve would have. The fact that we lost the race, now Chad looks like a genius,” Gordon said. “I talked to Steve briefly after the race. He’s pretty upset obviously. I think he just felt like more people were gonna take two tires. Shoot, we were thinking for a split second to stay out.
“I felt like we needed to come in and get some tires, but I felt like two tires was the right call, too. We just needed (Johnson) to take two. They did the opposite of us. That won the race for them.”