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Phoenix Powerhouse

Maybe it’s his Southern California roots, but something about racing in the desert suits five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. The driver of the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet grew up racing motorcycles in and around his hometown of El Cajon, Calif. He migrated to the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group (MTEG) Stadium Racing Series in the early 1990s, and eventually graduated to buggies and trucks racing on off-road stadium layouts and desert racing series, including the Short Course Off-Road Drivers Association Series (SODA).

While racing on the paved, mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway is not exactly analogous to the aforementioned series, there’s no denying that racing there suits him, and he hopes to continue his current hot streak in Sunday’s penultimate round of the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, the AdvoCare 500k. Phoenix is one of Johnson’s best tracks. He has finished every one of the 18 Sprint Cup races he has run there. He has four wins – November 2007, 2008, 2009 and April 2008 – and owns the best driver rating among active drivers with a 118.4 average of a possible 150 points. In his 18 starts, only three finishes were outside the top-10, and 12 were top-fives.

Since 2005, when Phoenix was added to the 10-race Chase schedule, Johnson has finished first or second four times (2006-2009) with a seventh-place finish in 2005 and 14th place in last year’s battle. In this season’s March race, he finished fourth on what was a newly configured surface. He expects nothing less this time around.

With just two races left to decide NASCAR’s 2012 champion, Johnson and the No. 48 team have shown they aren’t just powerhouses at Phoenix as they are riding a two-race win streak – both wins coming from the pole – that allowed them to regain and retain the points lead the last two weekends at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. As good as his stats are at Phoenix, Johnson knows stats don’t win the race. But it certainly couldn’t hurt to be riding a hot streak into town. 

Brad Keselowski has said he feels like he still controls his destiny. But you’ve been adamant that the points leader is in control. How in control do you feel right now with two races to go starting with Phoenix, a track where you’ve done so well?

“It’s a small amount of control, but we’re definitely in control. We don’t have to catch any or make up any points. Seven points is nothing to feel comfortable about and to relax on. We’re still going to go into Phoenix and act as if we’re behind and go in there to try to sit on the pole and win the race again.”

Talk about racing at Phoenix.

“During the race (last March), we actually got some type of second lane working in (turns) three and four, which was different. The dogleg, kink, turn three, whatever it is on the back straightaway, there was a bit of chaos in navigating that thing – guys shooting across the flat – which led to some issues into the real turn three. I think that is really the thing to be focused on. There might be some crashes as a result of that. The track has had some time to age and I hope it’s lost some grip so we will definitely move out. They spent a lot of time and effort to try to create extra lanes of racing through their modeling. I hope they’re right. The first time there, it was pretty narrow and I hope that, as it ages, we can get a wider racetrack and really put on a good show.” 

Race Statistics

  • Four wins (November 2007, 2008, 2009 and April 2008).
  • One pole (November 2008).
  • 12 top-five finishes (66.7 percent) and 15 top-10s (83.3 percent) in 18 starts.
  • Has finished every race at Phoenix.
  • Average start of 12.4 and average finish of 5.3.
  • Sprint Cup’s best driver rating (118.4 average of a possible 150 points).
TAGS: Race News

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Jeff Gordon
Denny Hamlin
Ryan Newman
Jimmie Johnson
Started: 8th
Finished: 1st
November 15th, 2015
2:30 p.m. ET on NBC
Kobalt Hot Pass