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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)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, celebrates with the Coors Light Pole Award after qualifying for the pole position for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, races during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 3M Chevrolet, talks to his crew chief, Alan Gustafson, on the grid prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 Comcast Business Toyota, sits in his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 17, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Sylvania/Menards Chevrolet SS, qualifies for ninth position Friday, April 17, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Menard is 16th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet SS, qualifies for eighth position Friday, April 17, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Kahne is fifth 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 seventh position Friday, April 17, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Busch is 21st in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet SS, qualifies for fourth position Friday, April 17, 2015 for Sunday`s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, lead the field to the green flag for the running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Smoke pours from the #51 Flipping Ships Chevrolet, driven by Justin Allgaier, after hitting the wall during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, races the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, celebrates with pistols in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 11, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

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