Jimmie in Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500

Triple Play: It's Jimmie in the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Title well within reach

The champagne is on ice, a confetti cannon is ready for launch, and somewhere, an established silversmith is practicing a trade he's come to know all too well since 2006. Jimmie Johnson closed in on his third consecutive Sprint Cup Series championship Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway with a third straight of another kind: a win in the Valley of the Sun. Johnson dominated the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil with a performance that's become familiar to fans in Phoenix. By leading 217 of 313 laps in the No. 48 Chevrolet, Johnson notched his seventh victory of 2008 and became the first driver in PIR's 21-year Sprint Cup Series history to win in three consecutive races on the one-mile oval. Davey Allison, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kevin Harvick have all won two in a row at Phoenix. Though he started on the pole, Johnson surrendered the lead on the race's opening lap to Jamie McMurray, who held the point through Lap 21. Eventual runner-up Kurt Busch controlled the track until Lap 80, holding the lead on both ends of a 23-minute, 37-second red flag for a rare Arizona rain shower. Johnson was the boss for much of the race's remainder, leading for stretches of 20, 102, and the final 95 laps to coast to Gatorade Victory Lane. McMurray, Carl Edwards, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, and David Ragan finished in order to complete the top 10. A mere 36th-place finish at Homestead-Miami next week will give Johnson the championship. Even if second-place Edwards wins and leads the most laps - a 195-point day - Johnson would clinch the title with the 36th-place finish. Johnson can also clinch the Sprint Cup by finishing 37th and leading at least one lap, or by finishing 39th and leading the most laps.

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