It was either feast or famine for the illustrious NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as they went to battle at the Phoenix International Raceway Checkered O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil, with Jimmy Johnson of El Cajon, CA collecting a huge victory, driving the Jeff Gordon/Rick Hendrick, #48 Lowes Chevrolet, racing from a third place start, Johnson earned in qualifying, having posted a 26.775 second, 134.454 mph lap. It was a day of feasting for this team. They couldn't seem to do anything wrong.
When the opening lap of this 312 lap event was called to action, Kurt Busch (NV) dragged raced with the pole sitter, Martin Truex, Jr. (NJ) who had scored a 26.643 second, 135.120 mph lap in qualifying down the front stretch for the lead. When the first lap scored, Ku. Busch had the lead. Johnson took over second place by the thirty-second lap, after starting in third. This would be the worst position that Johnson would hold in this race. By the fifty-fourth lap, Johnson took the lead from Ku. Busch, but gave it back to him on the seventy-fifth lap.
This Johnson, Hendricks, Chad Knaus team were just over powering every minute of the race. Johnson recovered the lead on the eightieth lap and with the exception of giving two other drivers a lap in the lead, Matt Kenseth (WI) and Ryan Newman (IN), the opportunity to score a lap in front, while Johnson made pit stops, Johnson more than dominated the race leading a total of 238 laps.
Johnson was the points leader for the Cup Series Championship Title points race and will head to the final race of the season, at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida, with a 108 point lead over, Mark Martin, who currently is second in this points chase.
Should Johnson, in fact win the Championship Title, it will be his fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Title. Johnson only needs to finish twenty-fifth, in the final race, to secure this victory.
"It was a great, great performance. Chad (Knaus) did a good job with the team. The second set of tires I got, the car just took off. I am really, really proud of our team. We got the job done. We knew after Texas (when Johnson wrecked and lost points in the Championship race) that things do happen. Our meeting after Texas, we said, hey guys we need to step up and get it done (referring to winning the title). We need to show them who we are. (referring to their team strength) It isn't easy, there is a lot of pressure. We race in a very competitive sport. What means the most to me, is that I am respected in the garage. If some of the fans don't respect me, I'm okay with that. I'm really proud of what we've done this year. Our goal is to be as competitive as I can and stay up in the front of the field. It's not easy to win races, nor to score points. We can't give an inch. You need to have everything ready if you want to win a championship." said Johnson
"I am really proud of how our car was today. Our crew did a great job. As lot of effort comes from the Hendricks shop. I don't think people realize what you have to do to be good. Everyone here wants to be good. You have to be prepared." said Chad Knaus, Crew Chief on the #48 car,
"It's awesome. I had a hard time explaining how good these guys are. It's been incredible. I'm just proud on how they, Chad and Jimmy, work together. We need to not forget how we got here. They ( the team) have to believe everyone is swinging the same way , as it's got us this far.With Mark (Martin, one of Johnson's team mates) racing in second place in the points chase, I'm going to be on neutral ground. I love them all. Mark is happy in his skin, with his family, with his team, Mark is just a happy person. I think Mark wants to win this title, more for Alan and his crew, than for himself. We're just very fortunate to have Mark in our organization." said Rick Hendricks, Johnson's car owner.
An amazing run by Jeff Burton of South Boston, VA, racing the Richard Childress owned #31 CAT Financial Chevrolet, came from a thirty-sixth starting berth to take over second place with twenty-three laps to go. Burton had a strong car with the ability to win, but it looked to me that Burton just ran out of time, to be where he needed to be, to make that happen.
"One of our stops wasn't very good today but the rest of them were good. We just weren't in the position to win the race, but the car was good enough. I need to work more on this. What with we did today, we still didn't win the race. We passed a lot of cars and I'm happy with second, but we need to win races. I'm proud of everybody. We've got a lot of stuff going on right now. I think it is fair to say, that this is the best we've ran all year. We honestly had a shot to win this race. We had what we had and he (Johnson) had what he had and he won the race. I don't think your generation (the generation that a person is in) gives you the credit you're due. It seems to come in later generations (when you are remembered for what you've done). " said Burton.
Denny Hamlin of Chesterfield, VA, has an abundance of talent, especially on this P.I.R. mile. Hamlin worked hard to catch Johnson, every minute of the race, but as luck would have it, Hamlin would have to be happy scoring a podium finish, having crossed the line in third.
"We had a good day. We feared that we may only finish in fourth or fifth place. I guess we are either the best of the worst out there or the worst of the best. Jimmy (Johnson) is the best and he' s not going to be denied the title this year. The only way he'll lose is if he has bad luck. Jimmy is really good in corners. Evidently they set the cars up to run that way. I watched Jimmy in the turns today and I tried to do that with my car, it just wouldn't work. I just can't get the acceleration out of the turns." said Hamlin.
A very valiant driver, Mark Martin of Batesville, AR, driving the Mary Hendrick owned, #5 Kellogg's/Carquest Chevrolet, after a tenth place start, drove to a fourth place finish. Martin is valiant because he always says only good things, is always happy and contributed just so much to NASCAR racing over the years. As mentioned, Martin is currently in the points race for the championship title and Martin with a full team effort has produced a fabulous run this season. I remember Martin in the spring at P.I.R. after winning the NASCAR Cup Series race, having not won a race for so many years, Martin was so very excited. Martin said then that he hadn't figured that he might win another race, since it had been so long. He just wanted to drive a fast car and that the win he just had made, may be the last win he'll ever get. Well, Mark Martin, you are a far better driver than you may think. You have drove excessively well all season and the fans love you.
As the top finishers in today's event feast over their runs, you would have to look at the famine side of the day, brought on by accidents, DNF's (did not finish) and cars that were out of the lead lap, when the last lap was scored. With only one race left to go after this one, every driver was out to drive the best race that they could but when the last lap scored, there were only sixteen cars left on the lead lap. Though there were only four cautions for the day, with two of them for debris, the other two cautions, each had lots of cars involved. The first large wreck was on the 120th lap, that consisted of a huge pile-up on the front stretch, that collected David Ragan (GA), Robbie Gordon (CA), Brad Keselowski (MI), Elliott Sadler (VA, Jamie McMurray (MO), John Andretti (IN), Michael Waltrip (KY) (Waltrip sustained heavy damage to his car), Erik Darnell (IL) and David Gilliland (CA). The first caution for debris had just ended, with the call to action had the field racing to the new green. On the way to take the flag, these drivers all racing towards the end of the field, had some one check up and it brought on this melee. No injuries were reported.
The second mess of drivers, that brought out the caution on the 172nd lap, started with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., racing in probably the fifteenth position, when he spun out in front of the on coming cars on the front stretch. It turned out that Earnhardt, Jr.'s, crew discovered that it was a leak of oil that was come from his brake system, that had probably put oil on the track, which helped to spin Earnhardt, Jr., out as well as collect, Keselowski, Tony Stewart (IN), Matt Kenseth (WI), Joey Logano (CT), Bobby Labonte (TX), Sam Hornish, Jr. (OH), Scott Speed (CA), Brian Vickers (NC) and Max Papis (Italy). Again, there weren't any injuries reported. After the race, Earnhardt, Jr., said, "I'm just sorry all of those guys got caught up in my spin."
The average speed of the race was 110.486 mph with the margin of victory just 1.022 seconds, which was between Johnson and Burton. Logano was the top finishing "Rookie" of the race.
Truex, Jr., scored in fifth place followed by Ku Busch, Clint Bowyer (KS), Juan Pablo Montoya (Columbia), Jeff Gordon (IN), David Reutimann (FL), Marcus Ambrose (Australia), Kyle Busch (NV), A. J. Almendinger (CA), Greg Biffle (WA), Kasey Kahne (WA), Carl Edwards (MO), Hornish, Jr., Kenseth, McMurray, Ryan Newmann (IN), Logano, R. Gordon, Ragan, Kevin Harvick (CA), Stewart, Reed Sorenson (GA), Casey Mears (CA) Sadler, Paul Menard (WI), Gilliland, Darnell, Papis, Speed, Andretti, Earnhardt, Jr., Waltrip, Keselowski, Vickers, Labonte, Joe Nemechek (FL), Michael McDowell (AZ), Dave Blaney (OH) and Tony Raines (IN).