Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 coasted their way into victory lane Saturday night using fumes to cross the finish line on the final lap of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on the Phoenix International Raceway 1-mile oval. Jimmie Johnson...
Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 coasted their way into victory lane Saturday night using fumes to cross the finish line on the final lap of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on the Phoenix International Raceway 1-mile oval.
Johnson, who started seventh, had a strong car all day, leading four times for a total of 120 laps. reigning champion coasted across the start/finish line for victory but still had enough fuel left to do a burnout for the crowd.
"I can't tell you how good the race car was and how much fun I had throughout the entire day one," said Johnson. "Then that last run, with 80 laps left in the event, Restart 14th, with all the lap cars and get up to the No. 11 and No. 8 and be right there on those guys, said a lot about the car that we had."
Not only was this his first victory of the season, but it was also his 34th career victory, which moves him into 16th position in all-time in NASCAR victories. Johnson moved ahead of legendary Fireball Roberts and is now only one career victory behind Mark Martin on the all-time win list. Johnson is now fourth in the Sprint Cup standings.
The No. 07 of Clint Bowyer also used pit strategy near the end of the race to come up with a career best finish of second at Phoenix. "We were kind of conserving brakes there in that last run," said Bowyer.
"Backing the corners up, backing the corners up, which in turn saved fuel, and about halfway through that run, you could kind of tell it might go all the way, that we were strung out that far. Gil said to save as much gas as I can and I did, and he told me that we were only three laps shy as making it before that run started, so I don't think I was near as worried about it as he was."
After coming from 24th to finish second, Bowyer moved up one position in the standings, and now resides in tenth.
Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 Toyota team looked strong today but never really had anything for the leaders at the right time and didn't doubt the call to pit with a handful of laps remaining to finish third.
"I'm happy with a top-five finish," said Hamlin. "Yeah, you can go out there and try and get a win, but we didn't know guys were going to try and make it till right there at the end. So, really wouldn't have raced any different."
Even with a third place finish and another top-five this season, Hamlin remained seventh in the Cup standings.
Fourth place finisher Carl Edwards in the No. 99 had one of the quickest cars during the day, but a penalty on pit road might have cost him a shot at winning the race.
"We had some sort of a miscue, got a penalty, then had one more problem in the pits, but the Aflac guys did a great job," said Edwards. "Robbie made a great call with two tires to get us back on the lead lap. That is as hard as I can drive right there, it's good to know that we can be that fast at a track other than a mile-and-a-half. It bodes well for the rest of the season, we'll just move on, it's a good points day."
Rounding out the top-five was the No. 8 of Mark Martin who had one of the strongest cars all day and lead two times for 68 laps but wasn't able to save enough fuel to make it to the finish. Martin had the quickest car near the end of the race and admitted to trying to save fuel, but just couldn't save enough when it mattered.
"We just about pulled this one off tonight," said Martin. "We had a great, great, great car. We changed our strategy at the end and I saved a lot of gas, probably a lot more than they knew. We had such a spectacular car there at the end of the race, I didn't have to run it hard. There were a lot of laps I didn't get it wide open on the straightaways. You can't stop if somebody else stays out. We can win some of these races."
Point series leader Jeff Burton in the No. 31 rallied back after a mid-race accident to finish sixth. On lap 134 of 312, pole sitter Ryan Newman started leaking fluid and the No. 31 of Burton spun after getting his tires into the path of the fluid leak while in 13th place. Burton dropped back in the field but battled his way back to finish sixth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 led three times for 87 laps to grab another solid top-ten finish. "I'm proud of my team, my guys had some great pit stops, beat some guys off pit road," said Earnhardt Jr. "We got to lead some laps and run up front. We just sort of lost some there a little bit and we got another solid finish and Hendrick comes away with a win, so I'm pretty happy."
The No. 1 of Martin Truex Jr. was eighth, No. 16 Greg Biffle ninth, and No. 18 Kyle Busch tenth. There were only ten cars on the lead lap and Ky. Busch was the last driver in the race, to finish on the lead lap.
No. 5 Casey Mears finished 11th after starting in 30th.
The No. 43 of Bobby Labonte, who spent more time on pit road making adjustment than any other driver, battled all day after starting 34th, to finish 12th.
Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 came back from two laps down to finish 13th, while the No. 20 of Tony Stewart hung out around mid-pack all day to bring his car home in 14th. David Gilliland put together a great finish for his un-sponsored Yates Racing No. 38 and finished 15th after starting 36th.
Juan Pablo Montoya's No. 42 finished 16th while Jamie McMurray and the No. 26 team finished 17th. David Reutimann in the No. 44 Toyota tied his season best finish of 18th, the No. 29 of Kevin Harvick finished 19th, and Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 77 was the highest finishing rookie and driver for Penske Racing. 20th is Hornish Jr.'s best finish since the season opening Daytona 500, where he finished 15th.
The No. 00 of Michael McDowell continues his learning curve as he finished 34th and there were a lot of notables finishing outside the 35th position.
The No. 9 of Kasey Kahne finished 36th after making contact with the wall. The No. 17 of Matt Kenseth struggled all day and eventually took his car into the garage, which cost him 43 laps, and wound up finishing in the 38th position. The No. 19 of Elliott Sadler, who started second, finished 41st and the pole sitter, Ryan Newman, had engine issues and finished in 43rd.
The race was three hours, one minute, 14 seconds long, had 10 lead changes among four drivers, and now the Sprint Cup Series takes a week off.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns in two weeks for Talladega Superspeedway.