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Johnson passes Kenseth for last-lap victory

LAS VEGAS - So far this season, Jimmie Johnson is doing just about everything right.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver has two victories and a second-place finish in the NASCAR Nextel Cup's three races.

Johnson was in the top five throughout the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, but led only the final lap Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

''That was a lot of fun, but I know how aggravating losing like that can be,'' Johnson said after a late caution flag gave him the chance to catch and pass Matt Kenseth in a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish.

Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet surged past Kenseth's No. 17 Ford on the outside after the two sped side-by-side through the third and fourth turns on the 1.5-mile oval for the final time. The winner crossed by finish line 0.115 seconds - about half a car-length - ahead as he led a lap for the only time in the race.

Johnson sympathized with Kenseth, noting he lost to Carl Edwards on the same kind of move last spring in Atlanta and then edged Bobby Labonte with an outside pass on the last lap last May at Charlotte.

But that experience definitely helped him strategize Sunday.

''I was slowly catching Matt before that last caution,'' Johnson said. ''I think we could have got up there to race with him but, if it stayed green, I believe Matt had it in the bag. Then we got that last yellow.

''I thought long and hard about what I would do if I was protecting the lead. I knew I wanted to be on the outside. I faked kind of to the bottom and he kind of bought it.''

Asked if he thought about trying to block Johnson's move to the outside, Kenseth said, ''I was running in the groove where my car was the fastest. If I had to redo it right now, I don't think there was anything I could have done different.''

Johnson won the season-opening Daytona 500 and finished second to Kenseth two weeks ago in California before taking his 20th career win Sunday. And he's doing it without crew chief Chad Knaus, banned by NASCAR for the first four races of the season after making unapproved modifications to Johnson's car in Daytona qualifying.

With lead engineer Darian Grubb stepping in for Knaus, Johnson will head to Atlanta Motor Speedway next week with a 52-point lead over Kenseth in the standings.

It was Johnson's second straight win here, but this one was a lot harder than 2005 when he led 107 laps.

It appeared through most of the race that Kenseth was going to get an easy win after being handed a victory in California when front-runners Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart succumbed to late-race engine problems.

Kenseth, who won here in 2003 and 2004, led a race-high 146 laps and was out front and almost assured of victory before a collision between rookie Denny Hamlin and Kenny Wallace brought out the last of seven caution flags on lap 264 of the race scheduled to go 267 laps.

A dejected Kenseth told his crew by radio his engine didn't feel strong for the restart, but he was able to hold off Johnson for a lap and a half after the green flag waved for the final time on lap 269.

''Sorry, you guys won a race and I lost it,'' Kenseth said to his crew. ''Can't do no more, I don't know.''

After getting out of the car, Kenseth said, ''Nobody likes to run second. We led all day. ... If I tried any harder, we were going to wreck. I just got beat.''

All three Cup races this season have gone into overtime because of late-race cautions.

Local boy Kyle Busch, who ran second to Johnson last year, finished third, followed by Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin.