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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.




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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)
Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars And Stripes Chevrolet SS, takes the chequered flag, Sunday July 5, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Following in second place is Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Patriotic Chevrolet SS. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars And Stripes Chevrolet SS, takes the chequered flag, Sunday July 5, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars And Stripes Chevrolet SS, takes the chequered flag, Sunday July 5, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr, driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars And Stripes Chevrolet SS, celebrates his win Sunday July 5, 2015, in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida (Photo Credit: Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, affixes the winner’s decal to his car in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Stars and Stripes Chevrolet, and Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, lead the field prior to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 5, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Daniel Suarez, driver of the #18 ARRIS Toyota, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Bobby Gerhart, driver of the #85 Lucas Oil Chevrolet, is involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Brennan Poole, driver of the #42 DC Solar Chevrolet, Aric Almirola, driver of the #98 Fresh from Florida Ford, Blake Koch, driver of the #8 Celsius Healthy Energy Cola Toyota, Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Bit-O-Honey Ford, Dakoda Armstrong, driver of the #43 WinField Ford, and Regan Smith, driver of the #7 Fire Alarm Services Chevrolet, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Rheem Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Rheem Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Rheem Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #33 Rheem Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered By Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

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