JOHNSON WINS RACE BUT NOT CHAMPIONSHIP

Ninety thousand fans watched JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Lowes Chevrolet win the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. Johnson dominated the at Phoenix International Raceway, leading four times for 235 laps of the 312-lap race. For some, it felt like diminished drama.

Johnson’s victory has all but clinched the Race to the Sprint Cup Championship. Johnson, 34, leads the Chase by 108 points, which means all he has to do next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway is finish twenty-fifth or better to win his fourth consecutive Cup championship

Johnson’s strategy for the season’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway: “We need to show up down there (Homestead-Miami Speedway)¬†and treat it like any other race. The further forward we start, the better we are going to be track position wise. Better pit stall selection we are going to have so until we get in the race and see what we really have, we’re going to treat it like any other race and just go as fast as we can.”

It was Johnson’s seventh victory this year, his fourth in his last five PIR races, and the forty-seventh of his Cup career. Johnson has run 290 Cup races since October 2001.

JEFF BURTON/No.31 CAT Financial Chevrolet finished 1.033 seconds behind in second place, after starting an uncharacteristically low thirty-sixth. “I was excited by the way I ran today, but I did finish second. So we’ll keep working. Fair to say this is the best we’ve run this year and this is the best second-place I’ve had. Success breeds momentum.”

Third place went to DENNY HAMLIN/No.11 FedEx Ground Toyota. Points runner-up MARK MARTIN/No.5 Kellogg’s/CARQUEST Chevrolet finished fourth.

Fifth through tenth were Pole sitter MARTIN TRUEX Jr/No.1 Rain-X Chevrolet; KURT BUSCH/No.2 Miller Lite Dodge; CLINT BOWYER/No.33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet; JUAN PABLO MONTOYA/No.42 Target Chevrolet; JEFF GORDON/No.24 Dupont Chevrolet; and DAVID REUTIMANN/No.00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota.

Up and coming Aussie, MARCOS AMBROSE/No.47 Little Debbie/Kingsford/Clorox Toyota  started twenty-first, ran as high as ninth before finishing eleventh.

JOEY LOGANO/No.20 Home Depot Toyota finished twenty-first and was the top Rookie.

Johnson’s Team Owner RICK HENDRICK has had thirteen victories this year. Three of his four drivers (Johnson, Martin and Jeff Gordon) are 1-2 3 in the standings, with DALE EARNHARDT Jr/No.88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet in P24. Junior was running well until he was caught out in the second big melee, forcing garage time for damage repair. Among those working on the car were four of his pit crew, who were rear-ended on the way to the track Sunday morning. They weren’t hurt, but were/will be sore. Earnhardt finished thirty-fifth, sixty-one laps down.

There were four cautions for 23 laps – two of which were multi-car accidents involving nearly 20 cars. The race ran for 120 laps before the first caution. The record for the longest green-flag run at PIR was 184 laps in 1994.

Sixteen drivers finished on the lead lap. Thirty-seven drivers finished the race, which ran for 2 hrs, 49 mins and 26 secs. The average speed was 110.486 mph.

Four drivers swapped the lead nine times. The other leaders were Busch for 69 laps; MATT KENSETH/No.17 DeWalt Ford – four laps; and RYAN NEWMAN/No.39 Chevrolet – one lap. Kenseth finished eighteen and Newman in twentieth, each one lap down.

The season’s finale race is next weekend at HMS, with the live ABC telecast starting at 2:30 pm EST.