Championship Spotlight on PIR
Historic fourth titles for Johnson and Hornaday on the line with Busch seeking first
As the numbers have it, the spotlight of NASCAR championship glory could shine down on Phoenix International Raceway not once, not twice, but three times over the November 12-15 Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 event weekend. With a 184-point lead on his closest pursuer in the Sprint Cup Series - not to mention three Phoenix wins and an average finish of 4.44 in nine Chase races at Texas and Phoenix since 2004 - Jimmie Johnson seems primed to wrap up his record fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Series championship not in the final race of the season, but instead one week earlier at Phoenix International Raceway, in the November 15 Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 Presented by Pennzoil. To officially clinch the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at Phoenix International Raceway, Johnson would need to exit the one-mile oval with a 196-point lead over second place. If Johnson leaves PIR with at least a 162-point lead, he would need to simply start the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to earn the title. In contrast, Johnson would need a lead of at least 324 points to clinch the championship following this weekend's race at Texas. In a NASCAR teleconference this week, Johnson spoke to his past successes on the remaining tracks on the Sprint Cup schedule. "I would say that looking at the schedule, the best track remaining for us would be PIR," he said. Johnson mentioned that the inclusion of the new double-file restart rule on the narrow oval could easily play to the advantage of his entry from Hendrick Motorsports, which has fielded the last five Sprint Cup Series winners in Phoenix. "I feel very strong about the performance Hendrick Motorsports will have (at Phoenix)," Johnson said. "I just hope it's the 48 car on top of the heap. But the double file restarts will be interesting. The bottom will probably be the preferred line. I think in Turns 1 and 2 the outside will do a really good job of hanging on and can maintain down the backstretch. But in most cases, the bottom of 3 and 4 is the preferred line, and we'll probably end up prevailing through the length of the race." A clinched championship for Johnson at Phoenix would be the third in the track's 22-year Sprint Cup Series history, and the first in the Chase for the Sprint Cup era. In 1991, Dale Earnhardt left the Checker 500 with a 156-point lead - with 151 the maximum single-race gain - over Davey Allison to clinch his fifth of seven Cup Series championships. In 1998, Jeff Gordon's 329-point advantage over Mark Martin coming out of Phoenix gave him a mathematical clinch of his third series championship with two races remaining. Johnson will not be the only driver, however, searching for a fourth series championship at Phoenix International Raceway next weekend. Ron Hornaday currently holds a 202-point lead over Matt Crafton in Camping World Truck Series competition, and like Johnson is in search of adding to his collection of three series championships. A fourth title for Hornaday would be a Camping World Truck Series record, untying Hornaday's current tie with Jack Sprague. Hornaday must leave the Lucas Oil 150 at PIR with a lead of 141 points over second place. By contrast, the driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet would require a 282-point advantage following this weekend's event in Texas - an increase of 80 points - to clinch the championship before arriving in Phoenix. Kyle Busch's current lead of 215 points in the NASCAR Nationwide Series leaves him in prime position to clinch his first national championship at PIR, as he requires a 162-point advantage following the Able Body Labor 200 to clinch the title ahead of the season finale. Like Johnson, Busch would need to lead the Nationwide Series point standings by 324 points after this weekend's event at Texas, meaning he would have to add 109 points to his current lead over the course of just a single race. Tickets to witness the championship atmosphere of the November NASCAR event weekend at Phoenix International Raceway - with prices as low as $25 for the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 - can be purchased online at the newly-designed PhoenixRaceway.com or by calling 1-866-408-RACE (7223). The PIR Ticket Office is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 125 S. Avondale Blvd., just south of I-10 at Exit 131 in Avondale.