"I can't say I've ever driven a race car that hard before," Johnson said. "That was a great, great race."
With three laps to go, Johnson had finally managed to edge ahead of Stewart in the side-by-side battle. Stewart surged to the high side, appearing to have enough steam to retake the lead when Johnson squeezed him, and Stewart scrubbed the wall. It was enough to knock Stewart slightly off balance and allow Johnson, driving the No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet, to pull away for his second win at the fastest track in NASCAR.
"Nobody ever likes to hit the wall," Stewart said. "I wish he'd have given me a little more room. I don't think I ever pinched him. He had a faster car, and he probably would have gotten around us anyway, but at least I'd like to have the chance to race him for it."
Johnson apologized for squeezing Stewart, but said he didn't have a lot of choice.
"Tony had a good run and came on the outside, but when I heard he was there, it was too late for me to adjust," Johnson said. "When I heard I was clear, I just started moving up the track and working on my own exit. It's unfortunate I squeezed him. Hard racing at the end is what I would call it. It wasn't intentional."
Matt Kenseth finished third, crediting his crew for keeping him in the hunt with fast pit stops.
"We ran pretty decent all day, but we didn't have it right during the last couple of runs," Kenseth said. "We weren't fast enough to run with Tony and Jimmie."
Juan Pablo Montoya continued his impressive rookie season by posting a career-best fifth-place finish.
"That was really good," Montoya said. "I was hoping for a top-three today, but I hit the wall on the last restart. We're going in the right direction."
Montoya was so impressive running the high line and staying with the leaders all day that Kenseth had predicted to his crew late in the race that Montoya would "either win the race or hit the wall."
"You hit the wall, man," Kenseth said, ribbing Montoya during the post-race press conference. "You don't need me to tell you he's a great driver."
Peachtree City's Reed Sorenson finished ninth after a solid performance running among the leaders all day.
"We were sixth before that last pit stop, and we didn't need that last caution," Sorenson said. "We had just got our car going. It took 20 laps for our car to come in really good."
Stockbridge's David Ragan was 33rd.
"At times we were as fast as say a 10th to 12th place car, but at other times we were a 25th-place car, so we just have to work on putting that together," Ragan said. "The car was there most of the day. The biggest thing was just to finish today. I wish we could have been up there in that top 20, but this is something we can build on."
The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series will return to Atlanta Oct. 26-28 for the Georgia 500 race weekend. Tickets will be on sale March 27 by calling (877) 9-AMS-TIX or at any Ticketmaster location.