Johnson Closing in on Cup Crown



PHOENIX — Sunday’s Sprint Cup race was supposed to be a Duel in The Sun, but no one told Jimmie Johnson, who led four times for 238 of the 312 laps. At the end, Johnson’s margin of victory was nearly two seconds over Jeff Burton.

“We could have been down after losing all the points last week, but we came in here to qualify well, race well, and have great pits stops. That’s what we did, and that’s all we needed from our guys,” said Johnson.

Jimmie Johnson needs only to finish 25th or better next week to wrap up his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship.
Jimmie Johnson needs only to finish 25th or better next week to wrap up his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship.
“We saw at Texas that anything can happen, and we’re going out next week to do the same thing we did today. We won’t be racing conservatively, because when you’re in the middle of the pack, that’s the worst place to be.”

Johnson came to Phoenix with a 73-point lead over his teammate Mark Martin.

He left town with a 108-point lead. All Johnson has to do is finish 25th or better next week at Homestead, and he will become the first driver to win four consecutive Sprint Cup championships.

Much of the credit for Johnson’s success goes to Chad Knaus, the crew chief on Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet.

“We try to do what we did today every race,” said Knaus. “But we knew we had to come to Phoenix and have a solid run. I know Mark had us in his sights, but we were able to stay just ahead of him, and that’s what we needed to do.”

If Johnson gets his fourth Cup championship, it will be the ninth one for Rick Hendrick.

“It’s kind of tough to watch teammates race each other, but winning the championship is what we start out to do at the beginning of the year,” said Hendrick. “All the guys have shared information all year. We go to Texas, Jimmie gets wrecked and all the guys from the other teams helped get his car back together. That’s what got us here.”

Mark Martin ran up front most of the race and finished fourth.

“It was a great effort by this race team today,” said Martin. “We gave it everything we had. The car was a little vulnerable on the restarts, and we lost some spots. The car was very good on the long runs.

“I thought we could get to Jimmie with 35-to-go, then it just got tight and fizzled out.”

Jeff Gordon finished ninth and is now 169 points behind Johnson.

“I know at the start, Mark and I were able to drive right to the front. I thought we were going to be great, but the cars just got away from us,” said Gordon.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had another rough weekend. During the middle of the race, he lost control of his car and slipped down onto the turn four apron, collecting Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and seven other drivers. He finished 35th.

Top 10 finishers: 1. Johnson, 2. Jeff Burton, 3. Denny Hamlin, 4. Mark Martin, 5. Martin Truex Jr., 6. Kurt Busch, 7. Clint Bowyer, 8. Juan Montoya, 9. Jeff Gordon, 10. David Reutimann.

Top 12 Chase contenders after 35 of 36: 1. Johnson-6,492, 2. Martin-6,384, 3. J. Gordon-6,323, 4. Kurt Busch-6,281, 5. Stewart-6,207, 6. Montoya-6,203, 7. Biffle-6,171, 8. Hamlin-6,140, 9. Newman-6,081, 10. Kahne-6,016, 11. Edwards-5,972, 12. Vickers-5,826.

For more sports news, pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.

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