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Jimmie Johnson stretches fuel to win in Phoenix

NASCAR Sprint Cup
Sunday, April 13, 2008

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An out of fuel Jimmie Johnson gets a push to Victory Circle
CIA Stock Photo
Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus played a fuel strategy game that paid off with a win in Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

While the rest of the leaders were pitting for fuel during the closing laps of the race, Johnson was able to stretch his fuel load and not stop.  He took the lead with eight laps to go and coasted across the finish line for his second straight win at PIR and first win of 2008.

Johnson took his first checkered flag of the season 7-seconds ahead of fellow fuel mileage gambler Clint Bowyer.

Forty-nine-year-old Mark Martin, now a part-time driver in the Dale Earnhardt Inc. No. 8, battled at the front with its former driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., for a lot of the 312-lap race on the mile oval.

And it appeared Martin had his first win since 2005 locked up after he passed Earnhardt for the win on lap 272 and began to pull away, building leads of more than a second. But, with the end in sight, Martin was called into the pits on lap 301, giving up the top spot to Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet.

With crew chief Chad Knaus telling him to keep conserving gas and that he had a big enough lead to slow down and save more, Johnson stayed on track and stayed in front to the end.

"I ran out of gas on the backstretch,” Johnson said. “We’re back. We’ve been working very hard to get back. I couldn’t be more proud of the folks back at Hendrick Motorsports.”

Ryan Newman and Elliott Sadler lead the field to start the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Both drivers left the race early with engine problems.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
"We got out off cycle and got a little behind there and had to drive to front, and still wound up saving gas at the end."

"We were getting really good mileage all day, especially on the long run," said Knaus. "We didn't have the capacity we wanted, but we had the mileage we wanted."

Denny Hamlin, who did pit for fuel in his Toyota followed Johnson's Chevy and Bowyer's Chevy across the line for third with Carl Edwards' Ford and Mark Martin's Chevy rounding out the top five.

Jeff Burton finished sixth with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who led a large part of the race, seventh.

Earnhardt Jr. led 87 laps but he was passed by Martin on lap 272 of the 312 circuit race and then had to rally back after his late race stop for fuel.

Martin was disappointed, but said, "I'm just really, really proud of this team. We just about pulled that one off tonight.''

He said he might have been able to get to the finish like Johnson and Bowyer.

"I saved a lot of gas, probably more than they knew,'' he said. "You can't stop if somebody else stays out.''

It was the 34th career win for Johnson, who had 10 of the Hendrick team's 18 victories last season, including a win here last fall.

Martin Truex, Jr., Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch rounded out the top ten.

Johnson's margin of victory was the largest since Martin Truex Jr. won the Autism Speaks 400 at Dover by 7.355 seconds over Ryan Newman on June 4, 2007.

After all the other contenders save Bowyer had pitted for fuel in the closing laps, Knaus instructed Johnson on Lap 304 to "Pit this time."

After a brief discussion, they changed their strategy. "Back up your pace half a second a lap," Knaus radioed to his driver. "Screw it. We'll go for it."

Knaus spent the remainder of the race slowing Johnson down, ultimately telling him to back his pace down three seconds a lap, because none of the drivers behind had time to catch up.

"Put it in neutral!" Knaus ordered as Johnson rolled through the final two corners.

"I'm good," Johnson answered. "I've got good fuel pressure."

As he approached the finish line, Johnson screamed, "We're going to win this."

Johnson led 120 of the 312 laps. Only three other drivers -- Earnhardt (87), Martin (68) and polesitter Ryan Newman (37) -- led the race, the fewest since the Siemens 300 at New Hampshire (July 25, 2004)  produced three different leaders.

Johnson conserved his fuel so effectively that he had enough left for a celebratory burnout, but he ran out of gas on the backstretch during his victory lap.

The victory moved Johnson from sixth to fourth in the championship standings, 99 points behind Burton.

Notes: The start of the race was delayed for more than 16 minutes to accommodate the rain-delayed Major League Baseball game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, which FOX also televised. . . Engine failures wiped out both front row starters. Newman fell out after 134 laps, and second-place starter Elliott Sadler followed with a blown motor on Lap 161. Newman finished 43rd, Sadler 41st. . . Comment of the race from 23rd-place finisher Kurt Busch: "My car's so tight it wouldn't turn at Talladega."

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has a rare week off before returning to action at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, April 27.

Results

FIN

ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 7 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 195/10 312 Running
2 24 07 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet DIRECTV 170/0 312 Running
3 16 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota March of Dimes / FedEx Kinko's 165/0 312 Running
4 3 99 Carl Edwards Ford Aflac 160/0 312 Running
5 4 8 Mark Martin Chevrolet Army Reserve 100th Anniv. / U.S. Army 160/5 312 Running
6 39 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet AT&T Mobility 150/0 312 Running
7 13 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet National Guard / AMP Energy 151/5 312 Running
8 9 1 Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Tracker 142/0 312 Running
9 18 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M 138/0 312 Running
10 6 18 Kyle Busch Toyota Snickers 134/0 312 Running
11 30 5 Casey Mears Chevrolet CARQUEST / Kellogg's 130/0 311 Running
12 34 43 Bobby Labonte Dodge Cheerios / Betty Crocker 127/0 311 Running
13 11 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Nicorette / DuPont 124/0 311 Running
14 36 38 David Gilliland Ford Yates Racing 121/0 311 Running
15 15 42 Juan Montoya Dodge Wrigley's Big Red 118/0 311 Running
16 8 26 Jamie McMurray Ford Crown Royal 115/0 311 Running
17 26 44 David Reutimann Toyota UPS 112/0 311 Running
18 17 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Reese's 109/0 311 Running
19 31 77 Sam Hornish Jr. * Dodge Mobil 1 106/0 311 Running
20 14 15 Paul Menard Chevrolet Johns Manville / Menards 103/0 311 Running
21 12 20 Tony Stewart Toyota Subway / Home Depot 100/0 311 Running
22 25 84 Mike Skinner Toyota Red Bull 97/0 310 Running
23 35 7 Robby Gordon Dodge MAPEI / Menards 94/0 310 Running
24 32 28 Travis Kvapil Ford Ford. Drive one. 91/0 310 Running
25 40 2 Kurt Busch Dodge Miller Lite 88/0 310 Running
26 28 55 Michael Waltrip Toyota NAPA AUTO PARTS 85/0 310 Running
27 33 83 Brian Vickers Toyota Red Bull 82/0 310 Running
28 10 66 Scott Riggs Chevrolet Haas Automation 79/0 310 Running
29 23 6 David Ragan Ford AAA Insurance 76/0 310 Running
30 21 40 Dario Franchitti * Dodge Wrigley's Juicy Fruit 73/0 309 Running
31 19 22 Dave Blaney Toyota Caterpillar 70/0 309 Running
32 43 21 Bill Elliott Ford Motorcraft 67/0 309 Running
33 37 10 Patrick Carpentier * Dodge LifeLock 64/0 308 Running
34 29 00 Michael McDowell * Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 61/0 307 Running
35 38 01 Regan Smith * Chevrolet DEI / Principal Financial Group 58/0 298 Running
36 5 9 Kasey Kahne Dodge Budweiser 55/0 273 Running
37 42 70 Johnny Sauter Chevrolet Haas Automation 52/0 271 Running
38 27 17 Matt Kenseth Ford DEWALT NANO Technology 49/0 269 Running
39 22 96 J.J. Yeley Toyota DLP HDTV 46/0 224 Running
40 41 78 Joe Nemechek Chevrolet Furniture Row/ DenverMattress.com 43/0 208 Running
41 2 19 Elliott Sadler Dodge Stanley Tools 40/0 161 Out of Race
42 20 41 Reed Sorenson Dodge Target / Glad 37/0 144 Out of Race
43 1 12 Ryan Newman Dodge Alltel 39/5 134 Out of Race
* Rookie of Year Contender

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