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Racing roundup: Jimmie Johnson grabs Chase lead

Jamie McMurray was No. 1 at normally hectic Talladega, which hosted an uneventful race.

DAVE MARTIn/ASSOCIATEd PRESS

Jamie McMurray was No. 1 at normally hectic Talladega, which hosted an uneventful race.

Jimmie Johnson steered around trouble and finished 13th in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500 in Alabama, a good enough spot to leave Talladega Superspeedway with the lead in the Sprint Cup standings.

The five-time Cup champion passed Matt Kenseth for the top spot and has a 4-point edge with four races remaining. Next weekend’s race is in Martinsville, Va.

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Jamie McMurray won Sunday’s event during the last lap in a nearly clean race until rookie Austin Dillon lost control on the final lap, allowing the winner to coast across the line under caution.

Kenseth finished 20th. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are tied for third in the standings, 26 points behind Johnson. Jeff Gordon — who had hoped Talladega’s unpredictable nature might help him make a push — made up only 2 points and is 34 shy of the lead.

After running strong early in the 188-lap race, Kenseth dealt with an ill-handling car and lost several spots when he attempted to make a late move.

Three drivers — Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kenseth — dominated the race until McMurray claimed the top spot after the final round of pit stops began with 25 laps to go.

McMurray won for the first time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 2010, not even having to worry about an expected charge from Earnhardt after Dillon spun coming out of the second turn. The only other driver collected in the crash was Casey Mears, who slammed into Dillon’s car and sent it flying into the air before it came back down upright.

A race known for massive crashes was essentially trouble free. There was a minor wreck early on when Marcos Ambrose got loose in front of the main grandstand and took out Juan Pablo Montoya, and 103 consecutive laps under green until the yellow and checkered flag waved together at the end.

‘‘I was a little discouraged I couldn’t get to the front earlier in the race,’’ McMurray said. ‘‘I felt if I could get there, I had enough speed that it would be hard to pass me.’’

He was right.

Earnhardt settled for second, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Paul Menard, and Kyle Busch.

Dillon, who was filling in for injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 car, wound up 26th after going to the final lap in third.

‘‘Every race here, we have a wreck on the last lap,’’ Earnhardt said. ‘‘For some reason, though, it was a lot calmer the last few laps.’’

The typical Talladega pack — 25 cars running within three seconds of each other — formed the lead train and began plotting ways to get to the front without causing the massive wreck that always seems to occur at the 2.66-mile tri-oval.

For some reason, the big one never happened Sunday.

.   .   .

McMurray, who isn’t part of the Chase, won for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and took a phone call in Victory Lane from Chip Ganassi. The car owner was still in California celebrating Scott Dixon’s championship in the IndyCar series the previous night.

 Dixon became the latest driver to deny Roger Penske an IndyCar title, wrapping up his third in a race of attrition late Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

Will Power won the season finale — a year after he crashed to blow his title shot — salvaging the night for Penske Racing.

But it was Dixon and Ganassi who celebrated on the big stage as the New Zealander won his third series title, and Target Chip Ganassi claimed its 10th championship since 1990. Dixon wrapped it up with a fifth-place finish. He was the final car on the lead lap and beat Helio Castroneves by 27 points for the title.

Penske has now been denied in the season finale six times since Sam Hornish won the organization its last IndyCar championship in 2006.

Ganassi has won five championships in that span.

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