Fireworks at Phoenix in all three series
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Jimmie Johnson rebounded from a rare bad race with a dominating victory at Phoenix International Raceway that pushed him to the edge of a NASCAR-record fourth consecutive championship.
Johnson led 238 laps Sunday to win for the fourth time in the last five races at Phoenix. It was his seventh victory of the season, and fourth since the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
More important, it stretched his lead to 108 points over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin heading into the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Johnson needs to finish 25th or better next week to grab a spot in NASCAR's record books.
Although his Hendrick team initially celebrated as if the title had been locked up, the No. 48 crew quickly settled down in Victory Lane.
"I can't put my guard down," Johnson said, "anything and everything can go wrong."
It did a week ago in Texas, where Johnson was caught in a wreck three laps into the race and had to sit inside his disabled race car as his crew did a total rebuild of the Chevrolet. He limped to a 38th-place finish that cost him 111 points in the standings.
It still left him with a 73-point lead over Martin headed into Phoenix, but Johnson refused to play it safe and coast to the win. He raced hard all weekend, intent on bouncing back with a dominating showing in the desert.
"We could have easily been beat down, and certainly there were some dark moments over the past week thinking about the points lost," Johnson said. "We didn't, though. But we saw in Texas that anything can happen, so we don't need to get too excited about this."
Martin finished fourth, respectable but not the showing he needed to move closer to the championship that has eluded him his entire NASCAR career. The sentimental favorite this year will likely finish second in the final standings for a fifth time.
"We gave it everything we had," Martin said.
He's the only driver still in mathematical contention to catch Johnson. Fellow Hendrick driver Jeff Gordon will be eliminated as soon as Johnson starts next Sunday's race, and Johnson's win at Phoenix knocked everyone else out of contention.
-- The Associated Press
Nationwide Series: Sparks may fly
Saturday's Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (ESPN2, 4:30 p.m. ET) just might be the kind of slam-bang barn burner NASCAR fans have been so starved for lately.
NASCAR officials have been working to avoid an all-out feud between the two -- and admonishing Keselowski to ease up on his aggressive driving -- but still, there's no telling what will happen after the green flag drops in the Nationwide finale.
Hamlin was Keselowski's latest victim, Saturday at Phoenix, after setting off Brad K's vengeful instincts with a late race bump.
"The 88 [Keselowski] just flat-out dumped the 20 [Hamlin]," Busch, a close observer to the incident, told his spotter via radio. "He tried it getting into [Turn] 3, and he missed. So he drove into him in the center of the corner.
"What is wrong with that kid?" Now for Kyle Busch to ask that question about another driver -- that's fairly monumental.
Except for visage and accent, Keselowski could have been a reincarnation of the Intimidator as he told ESPN reporters afterward, "Denny got in the back of me and pushed me up the track, and I was going to return the favor. When he did it to me, I saved it, and when I did it to him, he didn't save it."
Hamlin left little doubt about his intentions for Homestead when an ESPN crew caught up with him as he marched, seething, through the Phoenix garage.
"I'm just happy I signed up for next week's Nationwide race," he said. (The Cup regular is selective about which Nationwide races he enters.)
"There's a lot of guys that owe him," Hamlin said of Keselowski. (For example, at Memphis in October, Keselowski was the aggressor in three major tangles -- with Justin Allgaier, Mike Bliss and Carl Edwards -- on his way to a win.)
"There's a lot of guys who have a lot of chips they're gonna cash in," said Hamlin. "I'm just gonna be the first at the pay window."
Asked if NASCAR needed to deal with Keselowski now, Hamlin snorted, "Nah, nah. I'll take care of him. It's no biggie. I got him."
It was an overwhelming issue even for Busch and his crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, even though they'd had a rough night of their own at Phoenix, finishing ninth while Edwards won the race and led the most laps to keep the championship mathematically open.
"That kid never fails to amaze me," Ratcliff told ESPN from the pits. "From what I saw, he definitely went into the middle of the corner and punted him [Hamlin].
"Every week he wrecks somebody," Ratcliff continued, "and NASCAR's not going to do anything about it, and unfortunately I'm afraid he's going to get hurt, because somebody's going to get angry and do it at a higher-speed track, and we don't want to see that."
There hadn't been language that strong in the NASCAR ranks since Richard Petty said of the emerging Earnhardt in 1987, "There'll come a day when there won't be enough wreckers to pick up the pieces of his car."
"Stay tuned" is an understatement. Saturday might turn out to be the highlight of the whole "Championship Weekend" at Homestead.
And Brad K showed back in Memphis that he has a read on where he's taking the fans with this.
"The harder you race and the tougher you race the more you're rewarded, it seems like," he said in October, " but the fans love it."
Camping World Truck Series: A double victory
Turning their trucks momentarily into side-by-side dragsters on the front stretch at Phoenix International Raceway on Friday night, they were celebrating Harvick's race win and Hornaday's clinching of the championship in a Harvick-owned truck.
And Harvick had an interesting take on it afterward: "To see Hornaday lock up the championship and to win the race, I don't know if you can script it much better," he told Speed Channel reporters after the burnouts.
There was reason for the teammates to go into the race with at least a rough draft.
Hornaday, to become NASCAR's oldest national series champion at age 51, needed only to finish the race somewhere -- anywhere -- ahead of his last pursuer in the points, Matt Crafton. He did that with ease, finishing fourth while Crafton struggled to an eighth-place finish.
Harvick is a master of the Phoenix track in Trucks -- this was his fourth victory there in the series. And, he got superior horsepower out of a new engine from the supplier he'll use next year, the Earnhardt-Childress joint engine-building venture.
Hornaday isn't one to hold grudges, but did hint at a little pleasure over clinching the championship over Crafton, who'd wrecked him in a late-laps shootout at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis back in September.
"When Matt got into us and wrecked that truck, that was our favorite truck," Hornaday said of the one destroyed at Gateway. "It really ran good here."
Driving one less to his liking Friday night, "I knew we didn't have a winning truck, but I had to play smart in points."
Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Racing Resources Says
Sprint Cup Series
- Jimmie Johnson won the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil at Phoenix International Raceway from the third-place starting position. He scored his fourth victory in nine Chase races and his eighth top-10 finish in nine Chase races, the most by any driver.
- Johnson holds the point lead by 108 points over second-place Mark Martin. If Johnson finishes 25th or better or 27th and leads a lap or 28th and leads the most laps, he will become the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion for the fourth straight year, a first in NASCAR history. This is the second-largest point lead in the Chase with one race remaining. The largest point lead with one race remaining came after Phoenix last year with Johnson over Carl Edwards by 141 points. The biggest points comeback with one race remaining occurred in 1992 when Alan Kulwicki (second) came from 30 points behind to win the championship by 10 points over Bill Elliott. The points leader with one to go has won the championship every year of the Chase (2004-2008)
- Johnson scored his 47th career series victory in his 290th career start and took sole possession of 13th on NASCAR's all-time wins list. It was his seventh win in 2009, the most by any driver. Six of those seven wins came in the 23 superspeedway races, the most by any driver. Johnson has led at least one lap in 22 of the 23 superspeedway races in 2009 and he has led in 28 of the 35 races this season.
- Johnson has scored nine straight top-10 finishes at Phoenix, the longest current streak
- This was the 13th victory by a Chevrolet at Phoenix. This was the 13th win by Hendrick Motorsports in 2009: Johnson (seven), Martin (five) and Jeff Gordon (one).
- A Chevrolet has won the last nine races at Phoenix and 11 of the last 12
- Hendrick Motorsports has won eight of the 27 races at Phoenix, the most by any team.
- Jeff Burton (finished second) posted his best finish in 2009 and best since his victory at Lowe's in October 2008. Burton has scored 18 straight top-15 finishes at Phoenix, the longest current streak. He has scored 17 lead-lap finishes at Phoenix, the longest current streak. Burton has a 21-race streak of running at the finish at Phoenix, the longest current streak.
- Denny Hamlin finished third in his 150th career series race. He posted his fourth straight top-10 finish at Phoenix.
- Mark Martin (fourth) posted his eighth straight top-15 finish at Phoenix, including top-5 finishes in both Phoenix races in 2009.
- Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) posted his best finish of the season and best since he finished fifth at Watkins Glen in August 2008.
- Kurt Busch (sixth) has been running at the finish in the last 14 races at Phoenix.
- David Reutimann (10th) extended a 41-race streak of running at the finish.
- Hendrick Motorsports remained 1-2-3 in points for the fifth straight week: Johnson, Martin and Gordon
- Joey Logano (21st) was the highest-finishing rookie.
- Chevrolet has scored 18 wins in 2009, leading all manufacturers. Toyota has 10, Dodge has four and Ford has three. The top 10 consisted of seven Chevrolets, two Toyotas and one Dodge.
- The highest finishing Ford was AJ Allmendinger in 13th.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (35th) has finished outside the top 10 in the last 11 races.
- Carl Edwards won the Able Body Labor 200 at Phoenix International Raceway.
- Kyle Busch will win the 2009 Nationwide Series championship simply by starting next weekend at Homestead-Miami.
- Edwards won his 25th Nationwide race in his 175th start, tying Matt Kenseth for sixth all-time. It was Edwards' fifth win in 2009 and his third win at Phoenix in his 10th series start there.
- Roush Fenway Racing has won seven Nationwide races at Phoenix, the most of all teams. RFR won its 10th series race of 2009.
- Edwards led twice for a race-high 109 laps, including the final 105. He led the most laps for only the second time in 2009.
- Kevin Harvick (second) has finished in the top nine in his last nine series starts.
- Reed Sorenson (third) finished in the top 10 for the fifth time in eight starts in 2009.
- Clint Bowyer rebounded from a Lap 7 accident with Busch to finish fourth.
- Points leader Busch finished ninth.
- Brad Keselowski (fifth) has finished in the top 10 in the last 16 races.
- Pole winner Denny Hamlin finished 12th after leading 91 of the first 95 laps.
- Mike Bliss passed Justin Allgaier for fifth in the standings.
- The 15 DNFs were a track record.
- Justin Allgaier (16th) was the best-finishing rookie.
Camping World Truck Series
- Kevin Harvick won the Lucas Oil 250 at Phoenix International Raceway.
- Ron Hornaday Jr. won his fourth Truck series championship.
- Harvick won his fifth series race in his 100th start. He scored his fourth series victory at Phoenix in his 10th start. It was his second Truck series win in five starts in 2009.
- Harvick led twice for 58 laps, including the final 56.
- Kevin Harvick Inc. won its 25th series race and season-high eighth of 2009.
- Kyle Busch (second) ended a five-start streak of wins in the series; it was his 13th top-10 finish in 14 starts this season.
- Aric Almirola (third) earned his 10th top-10 finish in 15 starts in 2009. Almirola led 52 laps, more laps than he had led in the series in his previous 47 starts combined.
- Hornaday (fourth) recovered from a penalty for noncompliant fueling on Lap 35; he was running 21st on Lap 39.
- Johnny Sauter (fifth) was the best-finishing rookie for the 12th time in 2009.
- The race ended under green-white-checker conditions for the sixth time in 2009 and the third time at Phoenix.
- The top 10 consisted of four Chevrolets and six Toyotas.
-- Racing Resources