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Johnson dominates to close in on title
AVONDALE, Ariz. -- They popped the champagne in Victory Lane and celebrated as if Jimmie Johnson just won another championship.
Almost. But not quite there.
Johnson moved inches closer to his record-tying third straight NASCAR title Sunday, trouncing the field at Phoenix International Raceway to deliver a knockout punch to Carl Edwards' championship hopes.
Johnson needs to finish only 36th or better next week in the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to join Cale Yarborough (1976-78) as the only drivers in NASCAR history to win three straight titles.
"He's doing something pretty special," said 2004 champion Kurt Busch, who finished second. "It's just tough to beat."
Johnson came into Phoenix on the ropes -- reeling, almost -- after a sub-par 15th-place finish last week at Texas allowed Edwards to take a sizable bite out of the points lead. Johnson rebounded to win the pole at Phoenix, but struggled through Saturday's final practice to send his stress level through the roof.
As Chad Knaus worked late into the night on a new setup and strategy, Johnson harassed him with phone calls that didn't stop until the crew chief ordered the driver to leave him alone.
"The first thing, the garage opens at 8:01, and he calls me right away," Knaus said. "I was like, 'Dude, leave me alone. I need to go to work.' I told him to go back to sleep, you're bothering me."
Whatever changes they made worked, as Johnson led a race-high 217 of the 313 laps to stretch his lead in the standings from 106 points to an almost insurmountable 141.
"This is what I've worked my whole life for," Johnson said. "We've got a great points lead. We'll go down to Homestead and try to wrap this baby up."
The win was his third straight at Phoenix, and had Edwards on the edge of conceding after his own fourth-place finish.