Jimmie Johnson claimed a dominant victory at Phoenix and closed in on his fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Series title. The reigning champion claimed his seventh win of the year and his fourth during the Chase, staying in control for 238 of the race's 312 laps.
He first claimed the lead on lap 55, overtaking early race leader Kurt Busch, who retook the lead from Johnson on the first round of stops. On lap 90, Johnson passed him again and dominated from then on, taking an uncontested fourth victory at Phoenix.
The race was probably one of Johnson's strongest during the Chase for the Sprint Cup series, and one that has allowed him to regain the momentum he lost after his crash at Texas last week. A 25th-place finish at the Homestead finale would be enough for the Californian to claim the title regardless of Mark Martin's result.
"I just can't thank the team enough for staying focused," said Johnson. "Pretty bummed out after last week. Chad did a great job of kind of steering the team, keeping everybody's spirits up, focused on the right things.
"We showed up, good in qualifying trim, qualified well. Then once we had that second set of tires on the car today, the car took off. We just made some small adjustments from there, just kept making the car better and better."
Meanwhile Mark Martin couldn't manage better than a fourth-place finish, losing more ground in the title race. Now 108 points behind Johnson, his title hopes don't rely solely on his results anymore and only a major upset for the Californian in the season finale can open up his chances again.
"I'm pretty proud of what we've done this season," said Martin after the race. "That's really all I've got to say about it. I'm proud of what we've accomplished."
Jeff Gordon is now completely out of the championship fight, despite finishing the race in ninth place. The four-time champion didn't have the speed to contend at the front, despite racing inside the top-five in the early going.
Jeff Burton enjoyed his best result of the season, finishing second in one of the best outings of the year for Richard Childress Racing, at a track where they've enjoyed success in the past. Clint Bowyer was also a factor in the fight behind Johnson at some points, but lost ground in the closing stages, finishing seventh.
Denny Hamlin finished third ahead of Martin, while polesitter Martin Truex Jr. was fifth, rounding out a good day also for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, as Juan Pablo Montoya finished eighth, putting both the team's cars in the top 10 for only the second time this season.
Kurt Busch, initially Johnson's main rival, fell back during a pit stop and would only finish sixth in the end. His result allowed him to close in on Gordon's third place in the standings as the best non-Hendrick car in the Chase.
Tony Stewart remained in fifth place in the Chase despite a troubled afternoon. He was one of 10 cars involved in a multi-car wreck on lap 171, ignited by Dale Earnhardt Jr. getting loose on the inside of Marcos Ambrose.
Another accident that involved at least six cars happened on a restart on lap 120. Brad Keselowski, making his second outing for Penske, was caught in both incidents.Pos Driver Make Laps
1. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 312
2. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 312
3. Denny Hamlin Toyota 312
4. Mark Martin Chevrolet 312
5. Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet 312
6. Kurt Busch Dodge 312
7. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 312
8. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 312
9. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 312
10. David Reutimann Toyota 312
11. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 312
12. Kyle Busch Toyota 312
13. A.J. Allmendinger Ford 312
14. Greg Biffle Ford 312
15. Kasey Kahne Dodge 312
16. Carl Edwards Ford 312
17. Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge 312
18. Matt Kenseth Ford 312
19. Jamie McMurray Ford 312
20. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 312
21. Joey Logano Toyota 310
22. Robby Gordon Toyota 310
23. David Ragan Ford 310
24. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 310
25. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 310
26. Reed Sorenson Dodge 310
27. Casey Mears Chevrolet 308
28. Elliott Sadler Dodge 308
29. Paul Menard Ford 308
30. David Gilliland Chevrolet 308
31. Erik Darnell Ford 306
32. Max Papis Toyota 304
33. Scott Speed Toyota 303
34. John Andretti Chevrolet 268
35. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 256
36. Michael Waltrip Toyota 251
37. Brad Keselowski Dodge 239
38. Brian Vickers Toyota 170
39. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 169
40. Joe Nemechek Toyota 47
41. Michael McDowell Toyota 36
42. Dave Blaney Toyota 9
43. Tony Raines Chevrolet 6