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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 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, will be on the front row after qualifying for second position Friday, July 31, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 American Ethanol Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position Friday, July 31, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Dillon is 19th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fifth position Friday, July 31, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Stewart is 26th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings.(Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, qualifies for sixth position Friday, July 31, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. Busch is eighth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, poses with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 31, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 Maxwell House Toyota, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, speak in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 31, 2015 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, poses with the trophy in Victory Lane with wife Samantha and son Brexton Locke after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, places the winner`s decal in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana (Photo Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, celebrates with the chequered flag after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, celebrates by kissing the bricks after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet SS, stops in his pit on his way to a ninth place finish Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS, races to an eighth place finish with third place finisher Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet SS, finishes in fourth place Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, races to a third place finish Sunday, July 26, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
A detailed view of the Brickyard 400 trophy prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 26, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo Credit: Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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