Commentary

Chase for the Sprint Cup full steam ahead at Phoenix Int'l Raceway

Phoenix blog Sunday.

Updated: November 10, 2008, 3:35 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

Sunday's recap

All times Eastern

7:57 p.m.

Jimmie Johnson isn't coasting to his third straight Sprint Cup title.

He's sprinting toward it.

The 33-year-old California native dominated Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, winning for the seventh time this season and third time in the Chase.

He stretched his points advantage over second-place Carl Edwards to 141 heading into next week's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his quest to become the first driver since Cale Yarborough (1976 to 1978) to win three straight.

7:22 p.m.

ABC announces that because of the two delays and network commitments the race will move to ESPN2 at the bottom of the hour in the eastern and central time zones.

7:08 p.m.

Jeff Gordon's engine finally blew on Lap 270, sending him to his sixth DNF of the season.

"I felt it early on starting to lose power," Gordon said. "We've had a lot of stuff happen to us. Engines haven't been one of them. Now that is in the mix."

Three laps later, Juan Pablo Montoya appeared to hit Casey Mears' car to trigger a multicar accident that left David Gilliland's car on top of Scott Speed's. That brought out the red flag for the second time of the day as the lights finally came on with darkness approaching.

7:03 p.m.

Carl Edwards picked up three spots on pit road, moving from seventh to fourth despite taking four tires during a Lap 24 caution for debris.

"Good job!" Edwards radioed.

Johnson maintained the lead, followed by Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.

"Use your head here," crew chief Bob Osborne said before the restart.

6:49 p.m.

Johnson clinches another five bonus points for leading the most laps. He's on the cusp of the 162-point advantage he'll need to all but clinch the title.

After taking 81 laps to get the lead, Johnson has led 137 laps of the next 151 laps.

6:17 p.m.

Drama in the Hendrick camp. Jeff Gordon's car appears to have a potential engine problem, so there is concern the same thing could happen with Jimmie Johnson's car.

Gordon was driving in the top five before the problem. He's fading fast at 16th.

5:59 p.m.

Jimmie Johnson leads on the Lap 148 restart. Carl Edwards is ninth, leaving him 158 points back in the standings.

Hendrick cars appear to be the most dominant at the top three positions -- Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Gordon, by the way, is closing in on Jeff Burton for fourth in the standings.

5:20 p.m.

It took 81 laps, but Jimmie Johnson finally got the five points for leading a lap when he passed Kurt Busch. That temporarily stretched his lead to 160 points over Carl Edwards, who was in 14th place. He needs to finish the day 162 up on Edwards to clinch the title.

5:03 p.m.

We're racing again in Phoenix!

4:54 p.m.

Jeff Gordon looked like he was taped up for a football game as he waited out the rain delay. He had a strip on his nose to help him with breathing the dry air and he had tape on his blistered fingers.

4:47 p.m. The clouds have parted and the blue skies are back. Green flag racing should return shortly. Stay tuned ...

4:34 p.m.

Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day.

Drops began hitting the track during the third caution, sending crews scurrying to cover tires. In case you're wondering how rare this is, the average rainfall for November in Phoenix is 0.7 inches.

Regardless, the red flag is out at PIR.

4:26 p.m.

Jimmie Johnson has put a little more distance between him and Carl Edwards. He's in second place on a Lap 36 restart following the second caution. Edwards is in 15th.

The restart didn't make it a lap because a safety truck still was on the backstretch. Oops.

4:07 p.m.

Winds gusting up to 35 mph pushed heavy clouds over the track just as the race was about to begin, leaving crew chiefs wondering how that would affect handling.

It didn't seem to bother Jamie McMurray, who passed Jimmie Johnson for the lead on the first lap.

4:01 p.m. The green flag drops on the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

3:59 p.m.

The No. 16 car of Greg Biffle, who began the day third in points, 143 behind Jimmie Johnson, was ordered to the back of the starting grid for making a transmission change. He had qualified 31st.

3:43 p.m.

If there was a noise meter on pit road during prerace introductions, it barely would have moved. There may have been more emotion during chapel following the drivers' meeting.

The applause for Jeff Gordon wasn't much different than Dave Blaney. Kyle Busch wasn't even booed. Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn't even draw that loud of a cheer.

Perhaps the fans are as ready for the season to end as everybody else.

***

Reggie Jackson, baseball's Mr. October, walked down pit road without any fanfare prior to the race. You would have had to look long and hard to recognize the former slugging star in his New York Yankees cap, blue T-shirt and blue jeans.

2:37 p.m.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb, the 2006 Cy Young Award winner, was among the celebrities introduced at the drivers' meeting.

Webb has been the Jimmie Johnson of Major League Baseball the past few years. This past season he became the first pitcher to win his first nine starts since Andy Hawkins in 1985.

1:58 p.m.

The rumor that Joe Gibbs Racing wanted to postpone Joey Logano's full-time entry into the Cup series until 2010 and put Kurt Busch or Martin Truex Jr. into the No. 20 next season was just that -- a rumor.

"I don't know where that came from," JGR president J.D. Gibbs said. "Joey Logano will be in the No. 20 next year."

Gibbs said he spent much of Saturday afternoon and early Sunday morning explaining to reporters and sponsors that there was nothing to the rumor and that the team was completely behind the 18-year-old phenom.

1:27 p.m.

Ah, the best seat in the house.

The trip up Monumental Hill outside of Turns 3 and 4 at Phoenix International Raceway takes about 30 minutes from the infield, but it's worth the hike.

From here you can see every nook and cranny inside this 1-mile facility. The needle-like scoreboard still shows Carl Edwards' win in Saturday's Nationwide Series race, perhaps a wishful sign the Roush Fenway Racing driver can delay Jimmie Johnson from clinching a third straight Cup title.

The view beyond the track is arguably the most spectacular in the Sprint Cup Series, particularly late in the day as the sun sets over the grandstand. Turn around and you also get a pretty good view of the Phoenix skyline.

Fans will pay $35 to sit up here in lawn chairs with coolers despite the threat of rattlesnakes and other desert creatures. It's like a day at the beach in the brown sand and hot sun above the asphalt ocean below.

Clouds hovered above this hill early in the morning, sending a threat of rain that comes to this area about as often during a year as the Cup Series. But by noon the skies were blue and it was a postcard-perfect day.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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