Winners and Losers: Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500

Patti RodischAnalyst INovember 16, 2009

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 15:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2009 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)
Darrell Ingham/Getty Images

The Chase for the championship has tightened up. What looked to be all but locked up for Jimmie Johnson is suddenly open to the three drivers behind him, while the other 39 look to steal the spotlight...and a win.

Take a look at the winners and losers of the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

 

Winners

Jimmie Johnson: He and his team have been phenomenal in the final 10 races of the year. They are so good that many teams seem to be fighting for second on back. On Sunday, Johnson did exactly what he needed to do to secure his place in history.

Johnson started third and quickly came to the front; the team dominated by leading the most laps and building on their points lead.

Johnson had a strong car, the team got it done on pit road, and he was able to hold on for his third fall win in a row at Phoenix.

This team is poised to win their fourth in a row next Sunday. What Johnson has been doing is downright incredible.

Points: First

Jeff Burton: We are seeing a turnaround at Richard Childress Racing and Jeff Burton led the charge today. Qualifying was a struggle and the team climbed their way to the front.

Burton had a great car on Sunday and made his way into the top 15 early on. Halfway through, his pit crew had him in the top five.

He did the rest.

Burton is clearly pleased by the changes that are happening at RCR; his performance on track has shown that. He ran in the top 10 for most of the day even though they did not have a car for the win.

They finished second.

This team was hungry for a win and they were fast when it counted. This was the most competitive we have seen them all year long. A run like Sunday instills confidence in both the team and the organization that they are heading in the right direction.

Points: 17th

Marcos Ambrose: To me, Marcos Ambrose has been the most refreshing driver in NASCAR this year. He might not have made the Chase, but his team has proven that they can run with the top teams in the series.

Sunday was no different for them.

Ambrose quickly moved up soon after the race started; he was threatening in the top 15. Narrowly missing the "big one," he went on to finish 11th. The team did a great job on pit road and Ambrose got it done on the track.

If he can avoid the bad luck that hurt him early in the year, I think Ambrose can make the Chase. He is fully committed to NASCAR, and if the organization wants to become more global in their reach, his is the perfect face to sell it.

You can’t help but cheer for Ambrose; even when he has a poor finish, he finds something to smile about.

Points: 18th

 

Losers

Kevin Harvick: In recent weeks Kevin Harvick and his team have seen something of a "late-in-the-season" resurgence. On Friday he announced that all three of the cars (Truck, Nationwide, and Cup) he was running this weekend were fast.

On Friday night he won the Camping World Truck Series race and his driver Ron Hornaday won the Championship. On Saturday he finished second to Carl Edwards. Sunday was a different story; the team fought a very loose race car.

He pitted early on the first green flag stop, but the loose race car cost them on the track. They were a lap down early and were struggling to keep pace with race. They finished 24th.

It has been a challenging season for Harvick, and he has not hid the fact that he is looking forward to it being over. Harvick and his team are looking to Homestead to end the season on a strong note.

Points: 21st

Michael Waltrip: Michael Waltrip is a team player and promotes all his sponsors in every medium he has access to. He is a great ambassador for the sport.

However, the success he found early on in his career doesn't seem to be following him into his later years.

On Sunday he had a poor qualifying, but was still managing to have a decent run about mid-pack with a very loose race car. He had no power steering and on the restart following the first debris caution of the day, Waltrip was hanging back.

In doing so he took the brunt of the damage on a poor restart and found himself watching his crew make repairs on the car. He did get back out there, but was just running laps for points.

Waltrip finished 36th.

The last week had been going well for Waltrip and his company, having announced new sponsorships. He was probably hoping to cap it off with a solid finish.

Points: 33rd

Bobby Labonte: It has been an up and down weekend for Bobby Labonte. After climbing his way into the top 20 and moving forward, he got caught up in the Dale Earnhardt Jr. wreck and saw a promising day quickly turn.

Labonte was battling all day with a loose race car, but they were able to maintain track position and were getting it done on pit road. Instead of racing for a good finish, Labonte was packing up to head back home. They finished 39th.

Labonte has a lot to look forward to in 2010. They had a fairly competitive car today and that is a good sign for him and his team.

Labonte could have taken a shot at Earnhardt for the wreck, but instead he took the high road; something a few other drivers could learn from.

Points: 30th

 

Lucky Dog…

Carl Edwards: It was not pretty for Carl Edwards on Sunday. The team struggled and really were lucky to finish as the final car on the lead lap. It was just one race in what has been an overall disappointing season for this team.

They started deep in the pack and Edwards was not very happy with his race car. Even so, he continued to give feedback to his team, but a long green run had them down a lap early on. As they say, caution breeds caution and Edwards was able to earn his lap back.

Edwards was never able to get to the front and he battled back to 16th place for the remainder of the race. He has to be looking forward to 2010.

One year ago Edwards was battling for a championship; this year he has struggled to contend.

Points: 11th

 

Final lap…

What many people had predicted on Sunday came true. Johnson dominated the race and took home the checkered flag. He also expanded his point lead on and all he needs to do now is finish 25th or better at Homestead. Once again the Championship will be his.

Johnson's run is incredible and something to be applauded.

The race by itself was a little disappointing. It seemed that any passing would have to be done early in the run. With only a few cautions to bring the field back together, you had to get your track position on pit road.

Next weekend will be an exciting one. It's history in the making and no matter who you're rooting for, the race will be something to see.

The final race is Sunday, Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami and starts at 2:30 ET.

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