By Bob Hurst
A little adversity didn’t hurt Jimmie Johnson at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday. A week after crashing his car into the wall at Texas and finishing 38th, Johnson dominated the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 to build on his points lead with one race left in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Johnson led 238 of 312 laps and gained 35 points on Mark Martin in the standings in winning his series-leading seventh race of the season. His 108-point margin all but seals a record fourth consecutive title.
“We knew we had to come out today and run well,” Johnson said. “We knew this was going to be a great track for the 5 and also for the 24. The only way to get any points on ’em would be to lead the most laps and win the race.
“It wasn’t easy. I’m very, very proud of how we delivered and rose to the occasion.”
Martin finished fourth behind runner-up Jeff Burton and Denny Hamlin. Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. was fifth.
“It would have been easy for us to come in here with our tails between our legs, really bow out,” Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus said. “We didn’t do that. We wanted to come in here confident and go after it and attack.”
Johnson will eliminate Jeff Gordon just by starting the last race at Homestead-Miami this weekend, and can claim another championship if he finishes 25th or better.
Busch aims for first title: Kyle Busch won’t win the Sprint Cup this year, but he will win his first NASCAR national series title when he starts the Nationwide Series race at Homestead-Miami on Saturday. Busch is so far out in front that he needs only to start the race to win the championship.
Busch has led the series standings for the last 28 weeks. He has a series-high eight wins and has led a record 2,625 laps. Overall, Busch has won 19 races the three national series this season. His 29 career Nationwide victories are fourth all-time.
CHASE FOR THE CUP DRIVER STANDINGS
RANK DRIVER POINTS WINS
1. Jimmie Johnson 6492 7
2. Mark Martin 6384 5
3. Jeff Gordon 6323 1
4. Kurt Busch 6281 2
5. Tony Stewart 6207 4
6. Juan Montoya 6203 0
7. Greg Biffle 6171 0
8. Denny Hamlin 6140 3
9. Ryan Newman 6081 0
10. Kasey Kahne 6016 2
11. Carl Edwards 5972 0
12. Brian Vickers 5826 1
Others: 13. Kyle Busch, 14. Matt Kenseth, 15. Clint Bowyer
Season at a Glance: Jimmie Johnson entered the season contending for a record fourth Cup title. He took over first place after the fourth Chase race at Fontana and leads all drivers with seven wins. Four of those victories have come in the Chase, the third time he has accomplished that.
Noteworthy: Johnson is one of only two drivers (Matt Kenseth) to qualify for all five Chase’s.
Car: No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet
Car Owner/Team: Jeff Gordon/Hendrick Motorsports
Crew Chief: Chad Knaus
Years in the Chase: 6th year
Career Cup Wins: 47
Best Points Finish: 1st in 2006, 2007 and 2008
RACE 36: Ford 400, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, Fla.
DATE, TIME: Sunday Nov. 22, 11:30 a.m. Pacific.
RACE LENGTH: 400.5 miles, 267 laps
TRACK: 1.5-mile, oval
GRANDSTAND SEATS: 65,000
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Carl Edwards
TRACK FACTS: The track was built after Hurricane Andrew left a trail of destruction south of Miami in 1992. The first Cup race at Homestead-Miami was held on Nov. 14, 1999, won by Tony Stewart…Greg Biffle has the most wins at Homestead-Miami with three straight from 2004-06…Mark Martin, who trails Jimmie Johnson by 108 points, gained 132 points on Johnson at the track in 2005, and has gained 111 or more points on Johnson in a single race four times since.
NASCAR FUN FACT: Ron Hornaday Jr. became the Camping World Truck Series first, four-time champion with his fourth-place finish at Phoenix last weekend.
NASCAR NOTES: There will be changes next season with teams and drivers, including Kurt Busch’s crew chief Pat Tryson leaving for Michael Waltrip Racing, where he’ll have the same position on Martin Truex Jr.’s team. Truex is leaving Earnhardt/Ganassi Racing. Jamie McMurray will leave Roush Fenway Racing and could replace Truex at Earnhardt/Ganassi. And Michael Waltrip is ending full-time Cup racing and going with a limited schedule next season…Will Danica Patrick race in the Nationwide Series next year? The IndyCar star driver might fit in with the JR Motorsports team co-owned by Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., but Hendrick isn’t saying for certain. “I think everything is an option,” Hendrick said about Patrick possibly joining his team. “It’s just too early to really comment on it. Nothing is ever imminent until it’s signed.”
Copyright © 2009 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.