Pole sitter JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet took home the maximum amount of points Sunday night at Phoenix International Raceway by winning and leading the most laps in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil. It was Johnson’s seventh victory this season, and he dominated the race, leading 217 of the 313 laps. He now has led 1,953 laps this season, more than any other Cup driver.
For the reported 100,000 fans, it was worth sitting through the two red flags, weather (sun-wind-rain), ten cautions for 55 of the 313 laps, and numerous accidents – including one car landing on top of another. Considering the crashes, it is a testimony to something – maybe the COT – that only six cars retired from the carnage. No one was hurt.
Chevrolet clinched its 32nd Manufacturer’s Championship title.
Johnson said “Great night! You never know with this sport. This sport always challenges you. I can’t tell you how tough this last week has been. I didn’t want to do anything stupid – I wanted maximum points.”
Team Owner, RICK HENDRICK said “It was the longest short race I’ve ever been through.”
Johnson’s Chief CHAD KNAUS said “Man, I just like winning races. That is what we do here. We do it for Rick.”
Mathematically, going into next weekend’s season’s finale race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, only one driver has a chance of catching or beating Johnson – CARL EDWARDS/No.99 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford, who finished fourth behind KURT BUSCH/No.2 Penske Racing Dodge and JAMIE McMURRAY/No.26 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford. The point spread between Johnson and Edwards is 141. Johnson just has to finish thirty-sixth or better to clinch the championship.
If Johnson wins the Cup Championship again, he will become only the second driver in NASCAR’s top tier series history to win three consecutive titles. The other driver is CALE YARBOROUGH.
Busch said “It was something special tonight to watch Jimmie. It was unbelievable to watch this type of display. It’s a potent combination of Jimmie, Chad Knaus, and RICK HENDRICK (owner). It was a privilege to finish second to them.”
Edwards said “We had a great run. It’s still possible, not probable, but possible. But I guarantee that’s not going to change the way we do business. Were going to go to Homestead and give it 100 percent. You never can tell what’s going to happen.”
Fifth through tenth were: DENNY HAMLIN/No.11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota; DALE EARNHARDT Jr/No.88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; KEVIN HARVICK/No.29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet; KYLE BUSCH/No.18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota; JEFF BURTON/No.31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet; and DAVID RAGAN/No.6 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford.
REGAN SMITH/No.01 DEI Chevrolet was the top Rookie, of two in the race. He finished twenty-third, one lap down. The other Rookie, SAM HORNISH Jr/No.77 Penske Racing Dodge, was the crash dummy more than once, but hung in there to finish thirty-third, five laps down.
The race ran so long due to the two red flags, that with approximately 30 laps to go, the East Coast audience had to switch from ABC-TV to ESPN 2 so that the ABC audience could watch its regularly scheduled show – America’s Funniest Home Videos.