Can anything stop Jimmie Johnson? Apparently, the answer is an astounding no.
After losing 111 points to championship challenger and teammate Mark Martin after his Lap Three crash at the Texas Motor Speedway, a flame of hope was briefly lit for those hoping anyone but Johnson would win the 2009 Chase to the Sprint Cup title.
But Johnson was anything but dead in the water, and if there was any track Johnson could rebound at, Phoenix International Raceway was it.
With three wins, seven top fives and seven top tens, the No. 48 Lowe's crew led by Chad Knaus had every reason to be confident.
They ran seventh in the first practice of the weekend, and rocked Happy Hour by laying down the session's fastest speeds. The team would start third on the field for Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.
Once he took the green flag, Johnson began complaining a loose race car, turning off the fans on his tires to create more grip.
It seemed to work; Johnson would overtake pole sitter Martin Truex Jr. for second on Lap 35, and instantly set his sights on leader Kurt Busch.
On lap 53, Johnson was able to just edge by the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge to get those valuable five bonus points toward the championship thanks to lap traffic, but Busch was quick to take the lead back.
"Good job, you led that lap, you got your five points," crew chief Knaus said.
It wouldn't be last time Johnson would earn his points.
Johnson was able to take the lead from Busch for the second time on lap 57. Despite complaints that his Chevrolet continued to be loose, his crew continued to work on the car, and got the No. 48 off pit road first time and time again.
After retaking the lead on lap 90 thanks to more lapped traffic (something the dominant leaders would battle all day), Johnson never looked back.
By the end of the day, Johnson would lead 76 percent of the 312 lap event, clearly clinching the five extra bonus points for leading the most laps, for his seventh win of 2009.
He leaves PIR with an 108-point lead over teammate Mark Martin. Other teammate Jeff Gordon will officially be eliminated from the Chase once the green flag is taken for next week's Ford 400 with an 169-point deficit.
"We just put a butt-kicking on everybody today," Johnson said in Victory Lane.
Next week at Homestead Miami Speedway, Johnson and Co. need to finish 25th or better to officially clinch their fourth Sprint Cup Championship.
For Denny Hamlin's Lugnut Report, click here.
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