Junior A Desert Star

AVONDALE, Az. - After finishing 33rd two weeks in a row, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. needed a solid finish Sunday at Phoenix to keep his championship hopes alive. And after surviving two red flags plus a green-white-checkered finish, Junior was able to score his second straight win at Phoenix International Raceway and his sixth win of the season in the Checker Auto Parts 500.

Earnhardt, Jr. had a strong car all day long and was able to work his way to the lead by passing Jeff Gordon with only seven laps to go. But when Casey Mears cut a tire and hit the wall with three laps left, NASCAR’s new green-white-checkered rule was put into play and Junior had to hold off Ryan Newman on the restart to get the popular win in front of more than 110,000 fans.

"I didn't want to lose this race!" Earnhardt Jr. said. "I just got underneath Jeff and he was kind of struggling."

Jeff Gordon followed Newman across the finish line for third with Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne rounding out the Top 5.

Jimmie Johnson’s bid to win four straight races came up short, but Johnson was still able to turn in a Top 10 finish with a sixth place run. Rusty Wallace, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Kurt Busch completed the first ten finishers.

Luckily for Busch, who needed a good Phoenix finish to bounce back from last weekend’s disaster in Atlanta, his tenth place run kept him on top of the Chase for the Nextel Cup point standings with only two races to go.

Busch now leads Gordon, who moved up to second place, by 41 points with Earnhardt, Jr. third 47 back. Johnson is fourth only 48 off the pace and Mark Martin rounds out the Top 5 102 points out of the lead.

Next up for the Cup Series is a visit to NASCAR's oldest Superspeedway, Darlington Raceway, for next Sunday’s running of the Mountain Dew Southern 500, which will start in the daylight but for the first time finish under Darlington's brand new lights.

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