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Johnson widens Chase lead with win at Phoenix

Jimmie Johnson wins again in Phoenix to move closer to the NASCAR Sprint Cup title
From his fiasco in Forth Worth, Jimmie Johnson rose like a phoenix in — where else? — Phoenix.

A week after teasing his Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors with a 38th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway — his worst of the season — Johnson regained control of his championship run by winning Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

In a dominating performance in which he led 238 of 312 laps, Johnson increased his advantage over fourth-place finisher Mark Martin (second in the standings) to 108 points. With a finish of 25th or better in the season finale next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Johnson will lock up his record fourth straight championship.

Johnson, who won for the seventh time this season and scored the maximum 195 points (winning and leading the most laps) for the fourth time in the Chase, will eliminate the other ten Chase competitors as soon as he takes the green flag at Homestead.

The victory was the 47th of Johnson's career, breaking a tie with Buck Baker for 13th on the career win list.

“First of all, I have to thank this race team for having the strength and mental attitude and everything that they do to bounce back from last week and show up and just put a butt-kicking on everybody today,” Johnson said.

“At the start of the race, we were a little loose but still running second or third. As soon as we put new tyres on, the car came to life. We made a couple of small adjustments that really, really helped it, and I could get out to a nice comfortable lead, ride, protect what I had, work my way through traffic — not with ease, but better than other guys.”

The race ran caution-free for the final 134 laps. Johnson lost the lead briefly when he pitted for four tyres and fuel on lap 243 at the 1-mile track, but he regained it on lap 248 when Matt Kenseth came to pit road.

Johnson kept his #48 Chevrolet out front the rest of the way, as third-place finisher Denny Hamlin and runner-up Jeff Burton, who passed Hamlin for second on lap 284, took turns in pursuit. Johnson's only anxious moments came when Hamlin's team-mate, rookie Joey Logano, made Johnson work especially hard to complete a pass.

“I was trying to be smart through traffic,” Johnson said, “and the #20 car (Logano) — I'm not sure if he was just trying to stay two laps down and didn't want to go three laps down, or if he was really trying to help his team-mate out — but, either way, the #11 car (Hamlin) caught me. Once I cleared him (Logano), I got back going, and everything was fine. But the #20 car wasn't being all that friendly.”

Johnson, who started third Sunday, plans to take an aggressive approach to qualifying at Homestead to try to avoid a repeat of the early crash that took him out at Texas.




Related Pictures

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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. (Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet SS qualified for 33rd position after hitting the wall Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Harvick, who is in the Chase, is 2nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.  (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #31 Quicken Loans Chevrolet SS qualified for 9th position Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Newman, who is in the Chase, is 3rd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS qualified for 13th position Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. Gordon, who is in the Chase, is 7th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.  (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald’s Chevrolet SS won the pole position and Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS qualified for 16th position Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s  Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. McMurray, who is not in the Chase, is 19th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. This was McMurray`s 2nd Pole win this season. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 Mcdonald’s Chevrolet SS won the pole position Friday, October 24, 2014 for Sunday`s Eliminator 8 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia. McMurray, who is not in the Chase, is 19th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. This was McMurray`s 2nd Pole win this season. (Photo by Christa L Thomas/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald`s Chevrolet, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, climbs into his car prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace, Jr., driver of the #34 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Wendell Scott Toyota, laughs before practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Darrell Wallace, Jr., driver of the #34 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Wendell Scott Toyota, leads Ben Kennedy, driver of the #31 Heater.com Chevrolet, during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota, looks on in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney, driver of the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, sits in his car in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, left, talks with crew chief Alan Gustafson in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody`s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
A view of the #34 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Wendell Scott Toyota, driven by Darrell Wallace, Jr., in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway on October 24, 2014 in Martinsville, Virginia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney and Matt Crafton confer. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Ryan Blaney at Kansas. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Danica Patrick alongside the #10 GoDaddy Breast Cancer Awareness Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing on pit road at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo Credit: NASCAR via Getty Images)

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