Jimmie Johnson entered Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Speedway with three goals: to earn the pole, lead the most laps, and win the race. At the O’Reilly Autoparts 500 he did just that. Johnson had a dominating win this past weekend increasing his point lead deficit to Carl Edwards by 141. He needs to finish 36th or better next weekend in Florida to capture his third consecutive title and become the 2008 Sprint Cup Champion.
Johnson earned the pole for Sunday’s race for the fifth time in nine Chase for the Sprint Cup races. Jamie McMurray took the lead from Johnson on the first lap and collected five bonus points for a lap led. McMurray posted his best qualifying effort of the year and lead the first ten laps. By Lap 10 Edwards gained one spot and moved up into 14th position.
McMurray continued to lead Johnson by one second by Lap 14. The first caution flag of the day came out on Lap 20 after Sam Hornish Jr. got loose and spun into Elliot Sadler with minimal damage to both cars. Leaders headed to pit road for adjustments. Johnson took four tires and a track bar adjustment while Kurt Busch led the field to green as Johnson moved up into third position.
On Lap 21 the second caution came out after Brian Vickers blew out his right rear tire and suffered a hard hit into the Turn Three wall. The race got underway until Lap 37 when the third caution came out for rain falling on the backstretch. The red flag came out for a 26 minute rain delay and the race resumed with Kurt Busch leading the field on the restart.
By Lap 81 Johnson caught Kurt Busch on Turn Three to take the lead for the first time of the day and collected five additional points. Dale Earnhardt Jr. moved up to third position after passing Kurt Busch.
A series of green flag pit stops began on Lap 99. Greg Biffle stayed out on the track and lead for six laps before hitting pit road on Lap 110 as Johnson assumed the lead for the second time of the day. Following the green flag stops, Edwards ran in the tenth position. By Lap 125 Johnson opened a 2.3 second lead and the cars spread out on the track running for the most part in single file.
Debris on Turn Two brought out the third caution of the day and leaders hit pit road. Johnson took a wedge and air pressure adjustment and led the field to green. Johnson increased his lead by 3.1 seconds on Lap 165.
Jeff Gordon fell back to eighth position after reporting earlier to his crew that he was struggling with power issues in his engine. By Lap 196 he dropped all the way to 20th. On Lap 210 the fourth yellow flag came out for debris on the track in Turn Four and leaders hit pit road. At the restart Johnson sailed passed McMurray, taking the lead and wasting no time pulling away from the field.
By Lap 237 Johnson locked down an additional five points for the most laps lead at 150. Non-Chasers Kurt Busch and McMurray ran in second and third respectively. On Lap 269 Gordon’s car started smoking heavily and his day was finished, suffering his first DNF of the season.
After a series of cautions Johnson continued to stretch his lead as Jr. and Denny Hamlin battled for fifth position. Johnson saw his best restart after the ninth caution on Lap 209 and pulled away from the field with 14 laps remaining. Contact with Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth brought out yet another caution on Lap 305.
Johnson took the white flag and sailed to his seventh victory of the season followed by Busch, McMurray and Edwards in fourth. All Chase competitors have been eliminated except for Edwards in the hunt for the title. The competitors head to Homestead, Miami for the conclusion of the 2008 season to determine who will be the last man standing at the Ford 400 on Sunday, November 16.