You have to give it to Jimmie Johnson. The guy is going after an unprecedented fourth consecutive NASCAR championship in the best possible way by racing to win and trying to score the maximum points possible. At the one-mile Phoenix oval on Sunday afternoon Johnson scored his seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the year. It was his fourth win over the last two months during the season-closing ‘Chase for the Cup’ and Johnson’s 47th career Cup win, moving him out of a tie with Buck Baker into sole possession of thirteenth place on NASCAR’s all-time winner’s list.
Johnson dominated the race in Phoenix, taking the lead in the early going and easily resisting any attempts to challenge his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Johnson led 238 laps of the 312-lap, 500-kilometre race, rebounding in style from a disastrous race in Texas the previous weekend where he was involved in a multi-car crash on the second lap.
“First of all, I have to thank this race team for having the strength and mental energy to bounce back from last week,” Johnson remarked. “I said before the race we were going to race for maximum points and that’s what we did. What a butt-kicking we gave everybody today! I’m very proud of Chad (Knaus) and the guys. The car was great and they gave me great stops.
“At the start of the race we were a little loose, but still running second or third. Then we put new tyres on the car and it really came to life. We made a couple of small adjustments that really helped, and I was able to get out to a nice comfortable lead and protect what I had and work my way through traffic. I was trying to be smart through traffic. I’m not sure if the number 20 car (Joey Logano) didn’t want to go a third lap down, or was trying to help his team-mate (Denny Hamlin), but the number 20 wasn’t being all that friendly. Once I cleared him, I got back going again and everything was fine.”
Jeff Burton came through to finish second, passing Denny Hamlin in the closing laps. Johnson’s last remaining championship rival Mark Martin finished fourth, while Martin Truex was fifth, taking his first top five finish of the year. “We had a great run,” 50-year old veteran Martin said. “We had a really good race car. It was awesome on long runs. We really didn’t do anything to the car. What we did do we took back out. It was a top five car the whole race and, like I say, it was really good on the long runs. We did all we could today.”
Johnson leads Martin by 108 points going into next weekend’s season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. To wrap-up the championship he has to finish twenty-fifth at Homestead. Jeff Gordon is third, 169 points behind Johnson, followed by Kurt Busch in fourth, 211 behind. Tony Stewart is fifth, trailing Johnson by 285 points.
Johnson says he plans to try to qualify up front and win next weekend’s race at Homestead. “I think that qualifying twelfth last weekend put us in harm’s way,” Johnson observed. “I was maybe a little cautious in qualifying at Texas, so we need to go down to Homestead and treat it like any other race. The further forward we start the better track position we’re going to have and we’ll also have better pit stall selection. Until we get into the race and see what we really have we’re going to treat it like any other race and just go as fast as we can.”
Good on Jimmie Johnson as he prepares to go down in NASCAR history as the first man to win four consecutive Sprint Cup championships. He may not be NASCAR’s most popular driver, but he’s most certainly one of the fastest, smartest racers anywhere in the world today.