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Jimmie, Jimmie, and more Jimmie. And what the heck did Denny Hamlin do?

  That's chasers Kasey Kahne (L, front) and Greg Biffle (R, front) nose-first into the wall...and all but out of the championship now....while Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) is bracing himself for yet another frustrating ending to a day at the office. Tony Stewart (14) just barely escapes. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   FONTANA, Calif.

   After Denny Hamlin crashed himself out of the race, and maybe out of championship contention, with an oddly poor move on a restart, it was all Jimmie Johnson Sunday in the California Pepsi 500.
   And Johnson laid quite a whipping on them.
   They were barroom brawling behind him down the stretch, with that two-wide restart rule paying off in some big crashes, just as Carl Edwards has predicted.
    But Johnson was Mr. Teflon, with only Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon able even to keep sight of him.
    So Johnson returns to North Carolina, for Saturday's 500 at Charlotte's Lowe's Motor Speedway with the Sprint Cup points lead.
    And when Johnson did his victory burnout, he kept playing and playing and playing, until NASCAR finally had to call him to come to Victory Lane.
    Not only is Johnson NASCAR's Mr. October, for his renowned stretch charges, but he is also amazingly strong at the Charlotte track.
    Sizing up the title chase four races in, with six to go: it appears down to Johnson, teammate Mark Martin (fourth in the 500, now second in the standings by 12 points), Montoya (third Sunday, third in the standings, 58 down), Tony Stewart (a struggling fifth Sunday, fourth in the standings, 84 down), Gordon (second Sunday, fifth in the standings, 105 down) and Kurt Busch (saving an eighth Sunday, and sixth in the standings, 121 down).
   Greg Biffle struggled in 20th and fell 188 points down. Teammate Carl Edwards ran better, finished sixth, but is still 192 down.
   Hamlin was the day's big loser, leading strongly much of the 3-1/2-hour race, under warm autumn skies at this low-banked two-mile track…and then inexplicably making a bad move while leading on one of those two-wide restarts and knocking himself right out of the race:“Made contact with the nose of the Juan Pablo Montoya and ended up taking ourselves out.  It was just a dumb mistake.   We’d just gotten the lead on pit road.  Not a smart move."
   Hamlin came into the race only 99 points behind Martin, but he leaves California 219 points down and all but out of the chase after finishing 37th.
   Ryan Newman struggled, then rallied, but he's now 223 behind. Kasey Kahne had another bad day, getting crashed out, finishing 34th, and going home 306 behind. The final man in the 12-man chase, Brian Vickers, was again not even a factor; he's 351 points down.
    If anyone is going to beat the Hendrick machine in this year's chase, it may have to be Juan Pablo Montoya. But he would like to get a win pretty soon.
   Still Montoya's ripping string of top-fives is impressive, even to him: "It's incredible. We have four or five in a row…and I've been losing points to the leader.
    "But, like I've said: you ain't going to make any points on anybody. Everybody that runs good is going to be there. You just got to make sure you don't lose any.  
     "If you make a mistake….."
    Well, Montoya was right there when Denny Hamlin did just that.
   It was on a restart on lap 191 of the 250, and Hamlin was leading the double-file. As the pack head toward turn one Hamlin, on the outside, tried to move down to block Montoya, who still has the position.
   Hamlin went skidding into the grass.
   "I think he made a huge mistake coming down on me," Montoya said. "I was surprised. 
    "When I saw it, I was like 'What is he doing? What is he doing?' 
    "And he was fifth in points -- and that took him out of contention.  
     "So I was kind of surprised when he did that.  I don't know if the spotter didn't tell him I was there or something. 
   "But I couldn't do anything -- I had Jimmie (right behind him) just pushing me all the way. 
    "So just trying to avoid something, you end up wrecking yourself. 
     "But you've just got to go to the next one.  
      "And once you pass Talladega and Martinsville, you can look at the points…
    "But we're doing top-fives every week.
    "Still, it would be nice if we can get a win soon and move on. We're getting close to our first win. We know it's going to happen."
     However the win was Johnson's 16th in the chases he's been in, and it shows that he and crew chief Chad Knaus know just went to peak.

  The results from the California Pepsi 500, Race Four of the Chase


  Jimmie Johnson and his guys are having way, way too much fun (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Few people have noticed this:

Few people have noticed this: Denny Hamlin has used his bumper more than Kyle Busch has this year. Maybe more than any other driver period. The only difference on Sunday was, this time he used his back bumper for a change. I'll give him a lot of cred for the man-up though.

I don't think this is what

I don't think this is what Denny meant when he proclaimed that he and his team were going to be "dangerous" at the beginning of the chase, but it's exactly what I thought when he said it. Denny's used his bumper plenty of times this year, but it was always the front bumper until Sunday. If you were watching the race at the right time you may have saw where he put it on Mark once, nearly spinning him. Or should that be again...

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