AVONDALE, Ariz.— Carl Edwards chipped into Jimmie Johnson's points lead with consecutive victories at Atlanta and Texas. Now the championship race has moved into the desert, where Johnson has traditionally turned up the heat on the competition.
This visit is already shaping up to be a repeat: Johnson won the pole at Phoenix International Raceway, and when the sun sets on Sunday's race, Johnson hopes Edwards can no longer be seen in his rearview mirror.
The two-time defending series champion has a 106-point lead over Edwards, and can clinch his third title if he gains 56 points over Edwards on Sunday and simply starts the season finale next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Not wanting to use a calculator in the cockpit of his Chevrolet, Johnson will simply run hard and see where he is at the checkered flag.
"My goal is to outrun those guys," Johnson said. "My goal's to win the race, try to lead the most laps, gain points on those guys so that we go to Homestead with as many points as we can. That's truthfully the goal. I hope it works that way. No telling it will. But that's what we're working on."
If history is any indication, Johnson will deliver.
He finished second here in 2006 to widen his points lead from 17 to 63 over Matt Kenseth headed into the finale, where he locked up his first championship a week later.
A year ago, Johnson notched a fourth consecutive victory to stretch his 30-point lead over Jeff Gordon to a heartbreaking 86 points. When Johnson crossed the finish line, Gordon and his entire crew knew their Hendrick Motorsports teammate had just won a second-straight championship, and Homestead had been reduced to a coronation.
Now Johnson, winner of the last two Phoenix races, hopes a favorable outcome Sunday will reduce Homestead to a 400-mile victory lap. But he's taking nothing for granted.
"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."
EDWARDS WINS NATIONWIDE RACE: Carl Edwards improved his bid to win a championship this season, rolling to a dominating win Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway to stay in mathematical contention for the Nationwide Series title.
Edwards, the defending series champion, led a race-high 78 laps and withstood a final challenge from Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin on a late restart to win his sixth race of the season. The victory chipped into Clint Bowyer's lead — Bowyer started the race up 91 points, but was in an early accident and finished fourth.
Bowyer now goes to next week's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 56-point lead over Edwards.