Phoenix Three-Peat For Johnson

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Jimmie Johnson needed to make a statement Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway and he did just that.

Johnson became the first driver to win three-in-a-row at PIR after he picked up the victory in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500.

Although Carl Edwards finished fourth, Johnson was able to increase his lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship to 141 points with only one race left on the schedule

Now all Johnson has to do is finish 36th or better next weekend at Homestead-Miami to clinch his third-straight title.

After stumbling the last two weeks in Atlanta and Texas, Johnson was determined to put on a dominating performance and this weekend in Phoenix was exactly what he wanted.

"I can't tell you how tough the last week has been," Johnson said. "This is what I've worked my whole life for. It's a weight on your shoulders. A lot of hard work goes into this. I was going for maximum points and I got it."

So Johnson is now poised to join Cale Yarborough as the only two drivers to win three straight titles if he can finish things up next week in Homestead.

“I’m just going to plan on the worst case scenario for myself, which is (Edwards is) going to have the fastest car and he’s coming,” Johnson said. “Then that way I’m prepared from A-to-Z on where I need to be mentally. So we’ll just kind of see what happens.”

Even crew chief Chad Knaus was impressed by the performance of his driver on Sunday.

"Jimmie stepped up," Knaus said of Johnson, who led a race-high 217 laps. "We came here with something a little bit different than what we ran in the past. It worked great for qualifying, but not in the race. Jimmie brought a lot to the table in pointing things out to me, we put a different setup in the car, and it was fast all day."

Edwards, who won Saturday's Nationwide Series race, started 16th and although finished with a top five, didn't have enough to trim Johnson's advantage.

"Jimmie is just doing it, he's doing a great job," Edwards said. "It's possible, but it's not probable. You never know what can happen."

"We’ve got nothing to lose. We can just go out and be aggressive and take chances. I can race as hard as I want. I mean, it’s cool.”

Kurt Busch put on a late run to try and take the win from Johnson on the final green-white-checkered retsart but had to settle for a second place finish.

"We just got beat, and we got beat by something special. He's doing something pretty special," Busch said. "It's really a privilege to finish second to him today."

Jamie McMurray, Edwards and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton and David Ragan completed the first ten finishers.

The season concludes with next Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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