2008-11-13 / Sports

Johnson Wins, Increases Point Lead


Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson AVONDALE, Ariz. - Jimmie Johnson won Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix Int'l. Raceway, and is now 141 points ahead of second-place driver Carl Edwards. If Johnson finishes 36th or better in next Sunday's final race at Homestead, Fla., he will capture his third consecutive Sprint Cup championship.

Johnson dominated the race as he led 216 of the 312 laps.

"Oh man, you never know how this sport is going to turn out," said Johnson. "You never count anyone out. We worked hard on this thing last night, and today we had an awesome car."

"It's emotional, whether you have a big points lead or not. This is what my whole life's for. We love to win."

Kurt Busch finished second. He was able to run with Johnson, but could not complete a pass on Johnson during the final green, white, checkered finish.

"We had plenty of opportunities to go for Jimmie," said Busch. "But we just weren't that good."

Jamie McMurray finished third.

"We were very fast on the start," said McMurray. "I got back in traffic and I never thought I'd get out. We got a little tight as the race went on and it wouldn't turn."

Edwards was never able to contend with Johnson for the win as he has in the past, and had to settle for fourth.

"We had a great run, but Jimmie is just doing a great job," said Edwards. "The thing we've got to do is keep our heads up and go to Homestead. It's still possible, but not probable, but we're still going to go there and give it 100 percent."

Jeff Gordon lost an engine with 42 laps to go and finished 41st.

"We've had a lot of things happen and now we add this to the mix," he said. "We've got one more shot at a win this season."

Top-10 Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 finishers: 1. Jimmie Johnson, 2. Kurt Busch, 3. Jamie Mc- Murray, 4. Carl Edwards, 5. Denny Hamlin, 6. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 7. Kevin Harvick, 8. Kyle Busch, 9. Jeff Burton, 10. David Ragan

Top-12 Chase contenders with one to go: Johnson-6561, 2. Edwards 6420, 3. Biffle-6358, 4. Burton- 6292, 5. Harvick-6233, 6. Bowyer- 6226, 7. J. Gordon-6151, 8. Kenseth- 6091, 9. Hamlin-6090, 10. Earnhardt- 6087, 11. Kyle Busch-6080, 12. Stewart 6059

Top-10 Nationwide Series leaders with one to go: 1. Bowyer-4977, 2. Edwards-4921, 3. Keselowski-4624, 4. Ragan-4431, 5. Bliss-4397, 6. Kyle Busch-4281, 7. Reutimann-4264, 8. M. Wallace-4019, 9. Leffler-3926, 10. Ambrose-3921

Top-10 Craftsman Truck Series leaders with one to go: 1. Benson- 3574, 2. Hornaday-3571, 3. Bodine- 3431, 4. Darnell-3282, 5. Skinner-3278, 6. Crafton-3275, 7. Crawford-3251, 8. Setzer-3042, 9. Sprague-3022, 10. Cook-2934

NASCAR is still sound

NASCAR is on solid ground. They will weather this economic downturn.

Any problems in NASCAR racing right now, and in the foreseeable future, won't affect the sanctioning body, but individual race teams are cutting back, as money slows.

Last week, The Associated Press reported that Chip Gannasi Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. were meeting to discuss a merger. Hardly big news these days, because it seems like all teams are attempting to shore up their financial position.

Sponsorship is a key factor. That's why the teams are talking merger. Should the Ganassi-DEI merger come to pass in the form of a four-car team, there are just two full-time sponsors in the mix: Bass Pro Shops on Martin Truex Jr.'s No. 1 car and Target Stores on the No. 41 that Reed Sorenson will step out of at season's end. Ganassi has a half-season schedule set with Wrigley's for Juan Montoya and the No. 42, while DEI is seeking a backer for Aric Almirola's No. 8.

John Story is the vice president for motorsports at Dale Earnhardt Inc., and the man charged with finding primary car sponsors for next season.

"No question, there are some deals out there to be made. But they're not necessarily the kind of deals that Sprint Cup teams, which can spend upwards of $20 million to fund a competitive car, are accustomed to finding," Story said.

"The economy is definitely taking its toll. As late as a month ago, I really wasn't concerned. Call me naive, I don't know. A month ago, I thought, it's going to be OK. The market fell another 690 points last week when it was supposed to be up. The investment community is scared, the banking industry is struggling for sure, the automobile industry is off. The economy, to say it's weak is an understatement. There are still some sponsorship deals out there for 2009. We've spoken to a lot of them. But I am a little bit nervous about the garage, about the sport and the industry, because of the economy, for sure."

Whatever the future holds for this potential merger or the potential GM-Chrysler joining, the future of the NASCAR we know is going to change one way or another.

Ford has already cut its factory support for all non-Sprint Cup applications, and Chevrolet is looking at its outlay in that regard as well.

We already know there are too many seats at many tracks, because those tracks can't fill them all, despite still drawing big crowds.

And in recent years, TV ratings and attendance have declined in the latter portion of the season, when football, basketball and other sports begin to dominate the headlines and offer NASCAR stiff competition for the attention of fans.

While the sport's more successful teams are certainly feeling effects of the economy to a certain degree, they're far from the near-crisis mode that's been reached by lesser operations at the far end of the garage. A best-case scenario is that the current financial squeeze only widens the already-existent competitive gap between the sport's haves and havenots. Worst case? That some operations don't survive.

"I think it's possible that the car counts will go down," said Mike Bartelli, the head marketing honcho at Petty Racing.

Waltrip's Ty Norris talked about fielding three cars for 2009 - one for Waltrip, another for David Reutimann, and a third in an alliance with JTG/Daugherty Racing and driver Marcos Ambrose. That plan omits the third solely-Waltrip car driven for most of this year by rookie Michael McDowell.

"We've seen these roller coasters before," he said. "We're not one to cry wolf and say it's never going to come back and we're never going to recover. We're going to recover. The economy is going to recover, the U.S. is going to recover. There are just so many unknowns right now."

Next week: Surprises and Disappointments

Weekend racing: The 2008 NASCAR season draws to a close this weekend at the 1.5-mile Homestead, Fla., track.

Friday, November 14, Craftsman Trucks Ford 200; starting time: 7:30 p.m. (EST) TV: Speed.

Saturday, November 15, Nationwide Series Ford 300, starting time: 4 p.m. (EST) TV: ESPN2.

Sunday, November 16, Cup Series Ford 400, starting time: 3 p.m. (EST); TV: ABC.

Racing trivia question: In 1950 Curtis Turner and a co-driver entered a 1950 Nash Ambassador in the Pan American Road Race. Who was Turner's driving partner?

Last week's question: What year did Rusty Wallace win his Cup championship? Answer. Wallace's only Cup championship came in 1989 when he edged Dale Earnhardt by 12 points.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodgesnews@earthlink.net.

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