Parks Race Reactions: Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix

Dustin ParksAnalyst INovember 16, 2009

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 15:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, performs a burnout 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There have not been many times this season where a driver has come out and completely dominated an event. There have been even fewer where that same driver was the eventual winner.

But, when Sunday's race concluded, it was clear that the best car won the race. So, this week's edition of "Parks Race Reactions" will look back at Sunday's race and look ahead to the grand finale of the 2009 season.

I honestly thought it couldn't be done. I believed that a different driver could take the top spot and be at the head table in Las Vegas. But, when the checkered flag flew in Phoenix, my thinking changed.

If there is any driver and team that has figured out how to win the Chase, it is very clearly Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team. Since the Chase began in 2004, there have been only three drivers to win the championship.

Kurt Busch had to hang on to win by eight points in 2004. Then, Tony Stewart earned his second championship in 2005.

Since that time, Jimmie Johnson has figured out exactly what to do to win the Chase. Whether they enter the Chase leading the points or middle of the pack, Johnson has figured out exactly how to win the title.

His incident at Texas was not a road block, just a setback. Sunday, he came out and utterly dominated for 500 miles. He was never passed on the track for the lead, and only lost the lead once during green-flag pit stops.

The gap is now 108 points back to Mark Martin. In order for Johnson to write his own chapter in NASCAR history, it will take a 25th place finish or better next Sunday.

Although it may look to be an easy ride, this race last year was not smooth sailing for Johnson. He qualified 30th, ran mid-pack all day, and finished 15th. He needed to be 18th or better to win the title.

Despite that fact, Johnson's legacy in NASCAR is set in stone. He will win the title—simple as that.

Now, on to other news not involving Johnson. How about great runs by Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. The entire RCR team has struggled all season, having not won a single race. But, Sunday both the No. 31 and 33 were near the front and stayed very consistent.

A lot of times this organization has been written off because of all the changes, speculation, and hard times they have gone through. But, these have been the two best cars for RCR all season.

That was proved on Sunday as Burton finished second while Bowyer came home seventh. A good day for both drivers.

And finally, the ultimate loser on the afternoon is Dale Earnhardt Jr. The signs were already there when his crew was in a car accident just getting to the race track. Everyone was alright, no injuries, but it set the tone for the whole afternoon.

Like clockwork, the No. 88 was mid-pack all afternoon, and shortly after a restart, got loose down low and set off a chain-reaction crash.

Another race, another good car, and another disappointing finish—this time 35th on the board. I'm sure the entire Amp Energy/National Guard crew will be glad once Homestead is complete. It has been nothing but a season of chaos and frustration, one which they all will be glad to see end.

Now, after 35 races and thousands of miles, it all comes down to Homestead. The questions of who will win the race have already begun. Questions about the championship have already been answered.

All that is left to wonder is whether anyone has the team, the cars, or the driver capable to knock Johnson off his perch.

Darrell Waltrip said at the beginning of the year that in order to win the title, you had to beat Johnson.

He was right on yet again. Even though there's still one race left, it is safe to say that, for another year, Johnson will be hoisting the Sprint Cup title.


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