AVONDALE, Ariz. --- As long as Jimmie Johnson doesn't oversleep next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway -- and he's taking more than one alarm clock -- he probably will win his third Sprint Cup Series championship in a row.
A dominating win in Sunday's Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway all but assured Johnson's spot in NASCAR's 60-year history as the second driver to win three Cup series titles in a row.
A 141-point lead over Carl Edwards means all he has to do is show up for the season finale next week and finish no worse than 36th -- or 38th if he leads a single lap.
"You never count this team out," Johnson said after winning his seventh race of the season. "We weren't that good (on Saturday). We worked on it and made some good decisions. This sport will challenge you. It's emotional, whether you've got a big lead or not."
Johnson led 217 of 313 laps. He sat through two red-flag delays, including an 18-minute pause to clean up a 10-car crash.
It started with a bump from Juan Pablo Montoya to Casey Mears, and it ended with David Gilliland's car landing on top of Scott Speed's car with 40 laps to go. Scott Riggs, Sam Hornish Jr., Kyle Petty, Elliott Sadler, Johnny Sauter and Marcos Ambrose also were involved, but nobody was injured.
The race also was stopped for nearly 24 minutes after 38 laps because of rain.
The final restart came with one lap left in regulation and forced a lap of overtime. Johnson easily kept Kurt Busch in his rearview mirror to win by three car lengths.
"We had plenty of opportunities," Busch said. "What he's building on is pretty special. Jimmie Johnson is putting a whipping on everyone. We put up a fight. I was proud to finish second today."
It would have been easy for Johnson to take it easy with a big lead. But it was clear from the start he would attack.
"I didn't want to do anything stupid," Johnson said. "I knew there was 10 more points for the victory. I was going for maximum points, and we got it."
Reach Don Coble at email@example.com.
WHAT: Ford 400 (final race in Chase for the Championship)
WHEN: 3:45 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Homestead-Miami Speedway
DEFENDING CHAMPION: Matt Kenseth
Through nine of 10 races
1. Jimmie Johnson 6,561
2. Carl Edwards 6,420
3. Greg Biffle 6,358
4. Jeff Burton 6,292
5. Kevin Harvick 6,233
6. Clint Bowyer 6,226
7. Jeff Gordon 6,151
8. Matt Kenseth 6,091
9. Denny Hamlin 6,090
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 6,087
11. Kyle Busch 6,080
12. Tony Stewart 6,059