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Johnson Takes Leisurely Ride To Victory Lane

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 15 2009
Jimmie Johnson had an easy day in his office at Phoenix on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Jimmie Johnson had an easy day in his office at Phoenix on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Jimmie Johnson will not only head to the season-ending Sprint Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend with a super-solid points lead, he will head there with maximum momentum as well.

Johnson won Sunday’s Checkers O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway and did it in boringly easy fashion.

Johnson led all but 74 of the 312-laps in the race, and many of those laps led were by multiple seconds over whoever it was who happened to be in second place at the time.

The two drivers who had the only realistic shots at depriving Johnson and his team of their fourth-straight championship – Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon – were seldom in sight of the lead car’s bumper.

As a result, Johnson will head to Homestead with a 108-point lead over second-place Martin, who finished fourth at PIR. Gordon finished ninth and is now 169 points out of the lead.

All Johnson needs to do to win the championship next week is finish 25th or better.

“We’ve got one more race to go,” Johnson said. “We saw in Texas that anything can happen so I don’t want to get too excited about it.”

At Texas, Johnson crashed on the third lap and lost 111 points to second place. At Phoenix, he was always well ahead of the wrecks which did mar the second-half of the race.

His recovery from Texas surprised nobody.

“I mean, anytime that Jimmie is down is not usually because of performance, it’s usually because of an incident like you had last week,” Denny Hamlin, who finished third, said. “There was no doubt in my mind they were going to come this week and make a statement. Obviously leading all the laps pretty much and winning the race sends a statement out there that he is the best, that they’re not going to be denied this year.

“The only thing that was going to keep him from winning the championship this year was bad luck. Obviously, they had a big enough gap where they could afford that one bad luck that they had last week.”

Martin said he had a very good car – at times.

“We were a little vulnerable on restarts and had to battle back from that,” Martin said.

For Gordon, PIR put an end to his hopes for a fourth championship as all Johnson has to do is start the race at Homestead to eliminate his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

“I was real excited at the start of the race,” Gordon said. “I thought it was going to be great. I don’t know. It just got away from us.”

Jeff Burton finished second at PIR Sunday, a second and a half back.

Johnson has never won at Homestead. He has a plan in place to change that next weekend. Be aggressive as soon as he enters the infield.

“I think last weekend (at Texas), qualifying 12th even though that is a good qualifying spot, put us in harm’s way,” Johnson said. “I was maybe a little cautious in qualifying on Friday. So we need to show up down there (Homestead-Miami Speedway) and treat it like any other race. The further forward we start, the better we are going to be track position wise. Better pit stall selection we are going to have so until we get in 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.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 15 2009
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