DOVER, Del. (AP) – Jimmie Johnson has a championship to race for, and he’s grateful that his rookie teammate understands to race hard – but not get in the way.

Johnson barely hung on to beat teammate Kyle Busch, then credited the rookie for helping him win Sunday at Dover International Speedway, a victory that vaulted Johnson into the lead in the Chase for the championship.

“He was all over me at the end, and that’s the way it should be,” Johnson said. “I’ve got to thank Kyle for being such a good teammate and racing me clean at the end.”

Johnson held off Busch by about a car-length. That they were so close at the end was a tribute to Busch, Johnson said.

“They were up here testing two weeks ago and we used their information,” Johnson said. “I don’t think Hendrick Motorsports had any new data on the track.”

Busch badly wanted his second career victory, but knew he had done all he could. He said there were no team orders preventing him from trying to beat Johnson.

“We were a little too tight at the end and couldn’t get the fresh air we needed,” Busch said. “I was hoping he might be little looser and chase up the track.”

Tony Stewart, the Nextel Cup points leader for the last seven races, battled an ill-handling car en route to an 18th-place finish. The outcome also ended his streak of 13 straight top-10 finishes that included five victories.

“Obviously, something happened today,” Stewart said. “This wasn’t the way our car drove yesterday. But we’ll be fine. We’ll get caught up.”

There would be no perfect weekend for Ryan Newman, who won poles for both races here and was coming off a victory in a Busch Series contest Saturday. Newman won the opening event in the Chase a week earlier, outdueling Stewart in a stirring finish at New Hampshire International Speedway.

The victory in the MBNA 400 was the third this year for Johnson, who now leads Rusty Wallace by seven points after two of 10 races in the Chase among the top-10 drivers. Johnson also won for the third time at Dover and 17th overall.

Stewart came to The Monster Mile 20 points ahead of Greg Biffle, who won here in June. Stewart is now tied with Biffle, who cut a tire and finished 13th. They’re fifth, 23 points behind Johnson.

Johnson went to the front on the 375th lap by passing Mark Martin. Both had pitted a few laps earlier under caution, but Johnson took four tires and after the restart easily outraced Martin, who took only two.

“I knew we were in good shape once we got going on a long run,” Johnson said, and credited crew chief Chad Knauss with making the key decision on tires. “Chad said four was going to be better, and it worked out.”

Martin didn’t fault the decision of his crew chief, Pat Tryson.

“They gave it their best shot to win this thing,” Martin said. “We had an awesome car.”

Rookie Busch and Wallace also passed Martin, who’s fourth in the points, 21 back.

Newman led the first 30 laps, but faded badly before recovering to finish fifth and stand third, 12 points behind the leader.

Just before the halfway mark, Roush Racing topped the scoreboard with Biffle, Kurt Busch, Martin and Matt Kenseth running 1-2-3-4. There has never been such a finish of teammates in NASCAR history.

Johnson was glad to see them fall behind.

“I don’t know what happened to them,” he said. “I was glad to have Kyle behind me, but to be honest I sort of forgot about him being a teammate there at the end.”

Johnson, who started fifth in a field of 43, led 134 of 404 laps in the $5 million race. His Chevrolet beat that of Busch by 0.080 seconds in a race extended for a green-white-checker finish after Joe Nemechek wrecked on lap 398.

Finishing third on the high-banked concrete oval was Wallace in a Dodge, followed by the Ford of Martin and Newman’s Dodge.

“I’m having better runs than I’ve had in a long time,” said the retiring Wallace, honored by the track before the race. “I want to go out on top of my game, and I’m doing that right now.”

The winner averaged 115.054 mph in a race slowed 11 times by 50 laps of caution. There were 15 lead changes among seven drivers.

Completing the top 10 were Elliott Sadler, Jeremy Mayfield, Kyle Petty, Carl Edwards and Casey Mears.

Kurt Busch, the reigning series champion, led 192 laps, but cut a tire and finished 23rd. He’s 10th in the standings, 170 points behind.

AP-ES-09-25-05 1859EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.