Johnson wins fuel mileage race in Phoenix
Phoenix, AZ (Sports Network) - Jimmie Johnson overcame an early race mistake
by stretching his final tank of fuel for the final 81 laps to capture Saturday
night's Subway Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup race at the Phoenix International
Raceway. The No.48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet took the checkered flag
7.002 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer.
The victory was Johnson's first of the season, the first for Hendrick
Motorsports in 2008 after they won 18 times in 2007 and the 34th of his "Cup"
"I'm shocked that I was able to save fuel running that hard through the
field," said Johnson. "I restarted in 14th on that last restart and drove to
third on my own and then was able to manage some fuel."
Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Mark Martin completed the top-five.
Other drivers of note and their unofficial finishing positions: points leader
Jeff Burton (sixth), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (seventh), Kyle Busch (10th), Jeff
Gordon (13th), Tony Stewart (14th) and Ryan Newman (43rd).
Newman brought the field to the green flag for 312 laps of racing and quickly
jumped out to a big lead. Edwards, who started third, took off after him,
passing Elliott Sadler for second, before a lap 10 caution flag slowed the
But Newman refused to give up the lead, fighting off both Edwards and Busch as
the field passed the 25-lap mark. Then Johnson, the defending series champion
and fall Phoenix race winner, joined the fray and by lap 31 passed all three
cars for the lead. Johnson built the lead to 1.4 seconds by lap 40, until a
Matt Kenseth accident brought out a caution flag.
A quick pit stop and the advantage of the first pit stall got Newman back into
the lead after everyone stopped for fuel and tires. But Johnson's car was
faster than Newman and he passed him again. Edwards and a new "player"
Earnhardt Jr. also passed Newman before lap 50.
A long green-flag run began to spread the field out and Johnson opened up a
one-second lead on Edwards and three seconds on "Junior" as the field hit 75
laps. Then Johnson began to lap cars and the traffic allowed both Edwards and
Earnhardt Jr. cut into his lead.
As the field approached lap 100 the sun began to set - changing track
conditions. It meant big decisions for crew chiefs, particularly if your car
was good over the first laps.
How much should you adjust on the next stop?
At lap 101 Johnson and company were still setting a quick pace and were
getting ready to lap Robby Gordon, who was sitting in 32nd place. They lapped
up to 22nd place when green-flag pit stops began around lap 111. Then in the
middle of the stops, Joe Nemechek slammed the wall to bring out the caution
flag. Edwards' pit crew incurred a penalty during his stop and the No.99 Ford
was sent to the end of the longest line.
Johnson led the parade off pit road with Earnhardt Jr. and Martin just behind.
But a couple laps after the restart, "Junior" slid around the outside of
Johnson for his first lead of the night. He led three laps, collected his
five-point bonus, then slipped back behind the No.48 Chevrolet, content to
ride in second for a while longer.
Then on lap 133, Newman, the pole winner began to smoke and several cars slid
through the oil suffering various amounts of body damage. There was so much
oil and fluids on the track, NASCAR brought out the red flag to clean up the
It didn't take long to clean up and NASCAR got the race back underway. Most of
the cars stopped for tires and fuel, but confusion in the No.48 Hendrick
Motorsports team left their driver out on the track.
"We had some problems there, we didn't pit when we should have," admitted crew
chief Chad Knaus.
A dozen laps later, Reed Sorenson slammed the wall and Johnson along with a
few others who didn't pit after the red flag period were forced to stop or run
out of fuel.
Earnhardt Jr. inherited the lead with Greg Biffle and an improving Martin
Truex Jr. in second and third place, respectively. Martin and Johnson led
those who stopped and were 13th and 14th on the restart.
Another caution flag and Martin stayed out and inherited the lead, but Truex
Jr. and Earnhardt Jr. were flying back through the field. By lap 175 they were
one-two-three. Also looking very strong was Kevin Harvick in fourth.
Martin held a two-second edge on Truex Jr. and three seconds on "Junior" as
the field passed the 185-lap mark. The No.8 Chevrolet extended the lead to
three seconds over Truex Jr. at lap 199 when David Ragan slapped the wall to
bring out caution flag number seven.
This time the No.88 pit crew did the job and Earnhardt Jr. beat Martin's No.8
and Truex Jr. off pit road. After just nine green flag laps Earnhardt Jr.'s
lead was three-quarters of a second on Martin and over two seconds on Truex
On the move from outside the top-10 was Johnson. He cracked the top-seven with
still 95 laps remaining and was clearly faster than all but the front two
cars. Then Kasey Kahne blew a tire, slammed the outside wall to slow the race
With about 81 laps remaining it was possibly the final pit stop of the evening
- last chance to adjust the car. Earnhardt Jr. and Martin were one-two off pit
road with Denny Hamlin in third and Harvick in fourth.
Off the restart it was again a two-man battle between Earnhardt Jr. and
Martin. Meanwhile, Johnson, who led 109 laps early, cracked the top-five by
sliding around Busch on lap 248 giving him still 64 laps to catch the leaders.
The drivers were pretty much staying in line, except for Johnson, trying to
save fuel, because if it went green all the way everyone would be very close
on fuel. Johnson caught Harvick with 47 laps to go and passed him two laps
later. But he was still four second behind Earnhardt Jr. and without a caution
he couldn't possibly catch him.
Or could he?
Johnson was just three seconds back with 40 to go and the fastest car on the
track. By lap 275 the gap was only two seconds.
Up front, Martin and Earnhardt Jr. were fighting it out for the lead and with
39 laps remaining Martin's No.8 got around it's former driver. Earnhardt Jr.
was beginning to fade, Hamlin got around him, then Johnson did too.
Twenty-five laps to go and Martin had a one-second lead on Hamlin and Johnson.
The gap was the same with 20 laps to go. As Martin closed on slower cars,
Hamlin and Johnson caught up to Martin with 16 miles to go. Hamlin stopped
for fuel with 15 to go and took two tires. Martin stopped with 11 to go, but
Ten laps to go and Johnson with Edwards were still going. Edwards turned in
for fuel with nine laps remaining taking fuel only. Five miles to go and
Johnson still stayed out. He had a 10-second lead on Bowyer and crew chief
Knaus was telling him to slow down, save fuel. He told him to slow it by two
second a lap. Johnson did and he cruised to the checkered flag with fuel to
spare. He even had enough for a burn-out.
"When everyone else pitted and I stayed out, we had to make something
happen," said Knaus.
"My hat's off to Jimmie they earned that one," said Edwards.
Burton's sixth-place finish leaves him with an 80-point lead on Busch (1,215 -
1,135). Earnhardt Jr. is 86 points back and with the win Johnson is just 99
markers behind Burton.
The series will take a week off and return to the track on Sunday, April 27th
at the Talladega Superspeedway.
04/13 00:45:17 ET
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