2009-11-19 / Sports

One More Race For Johnson


Jimmie Johnson Jimmie Johnson PHOENIX, Ariz. – 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, and 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.

“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 4 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-6492, 2. Martin-6384, 3. J. Gordon-6323, 4. Kurt Busch-6281, 5. Stewart- 6207, 6. Montoya-6203, 7. Biffle- 6171, 8. Hamlin-6140, 9. Newman- 6081, 10. Kahne-6016, 11. Edwards 5972, 12. Vickers-5826

Edwards wins race, Busch must wait

Carl Edwards dominated on the way to winning Saturday’s Nationwide race at Phoenix, denying Kyle Busch the championship, but now all Busch has to do is start next week and he will win his first Nationwide championship.

While Busch has enjoyed the kind of Nationwide campaign that most of his competitors would envy, he hasn’t enjoyed finishing second so often. As far as he’s concerned, his series-high eight victories have been somewhat tainted by the fact that he has finished second a whopping 11 times.

“I’ve wished that we would have been further ahead than where we are right now,” Busch said of the points standings. “I would have liked to have wrapped the championship up a few weeks earlier, but we are where we are. Given the 11 second place finishes, it’s tough, and it’s frustrating when you get those, but you know it’s a good points day. You know after you recognize it on the plane ride home … it was a good day, but you’re still mad you didn’t get to take the trophy home.”

Top-10 leaders after 34 of 35: 1. Kyle Busch-5487, 2. Edwards- 5297, 3. Keselowski-5242, 4. Leffler 4431, 5. Bliss-3960, 6. Allgaier- 3946, 7. S. Wallace-3860, 8. Keller- 3831, 9. Gaughan-3784, 10. Annett 3498

Hornaday gets record fourth title

Ron Hornaday clinched his fourth Truck championship after finishing fourth at Phoenix, and at 51 years of age, became NASCAR’s oldest champion.

Hornaday raced conservatively in order to maintain his 197-point lead over Matt Crafton, the second-place driver in points.

“I knew that all we needed do was come home in the top five, and that’s what we did,” said Hornaday.

Hornaday’s truck owner, Kevin Harvick won the race.

Top-10 leaders after 24 of 25: 1. Hornaday-3817, 2. Crafton- 3602, 3. Skinner-3452, 4. Bodine- 3277, 5. Sauter-3193, 6. Scott- 3180, 7. Braun-3168, 8. Starr-3125, 9. Peters-3124, 10. Crawford-3049

Not all is well with France family

Like all families, Brian France has his own personal problems that he would like to sweep under the family carpet. France, the NASCAR chairman filed a civil complaint against his exwife, Megan France, last year, a few months after the couple divorced in Florida. They married in California in 2005.

France’s lawyers persuaded Mecklenburg County, N.C., Judge Todd Owens to seal the court file from public inspection, an unusual move in a court system that typically allows widespread access to courtrooms and documents. On Friday, France’s attorneys petitioned a Mecklenburg judge to bar the public from the courtroom.

We’ll have more on this as it unfolds, because even NASCAR’s chairman shouldn’t be above public scrutiny.

Weekend racing: The final race of the season will be held this weekend at the 1.5-mile Homestead Miami Speedway and involves all three of NASCAR’s major series.

Friday, November 20, Camping World Trucks Ford 200, starting time: 7:30 p.m. (EDT); TV: Speed Channel.

Saturday, November 21, Nationwide Series Ford 300. starting time: 4 p.m. (EDT); TV: ESPN2.

Sunday, November 22, Sprint Cup Ford 400, starting time: 2:30 p.m. (EDT); TV: ABC.

Racing trivia question: When did Homestead-Miami Speedway open?

Last week’s question: Which driver has the most Sprint Cup championships? Answer. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. each have seven championships.

Contact the Racing Reporter at: hodgesnews@earthlink.net.

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