Tue, Nov 13, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Jimmie Johnson beats four-time series champion to win Nextel Cup in Phoenix

AP , AVONDALE, ARIZONA

Jimmie Johnson took command of the Nextel Cup championship on Sunday, winning at Phoenix International Raceway to open a daunting lead over teammate Jeff Gordon in the race to the title.

Johnson, the defending Nextel Cup champion, heads to next week's season finale in Homestead, Florida, with a comfortable 86-point lead over Gordon.

"It's over. It's over," conceded Gordon, the four-time series champion.

Johnson wasn't ready to claim the title.

"Homestead is going to be a stressful weekend. We've got seven more days, I'm just going to try to keep my mind clear and focus on the things we need to do," Johnson said. "This is kind of where we were last year. We just have to go down there and be smart and see how it shakes out."

Gordon was off all day. He had a tire rub after making contacting with Kevin Harvick, and finished a disappointing 10th.

It was a crushing performance on a day when Johnson raced to his fourth consecutive victory and 10th of the season -- most since Gordon won 13 times in 1998.

"Unless you lead every lap and beat Jimmie Johnson to win the race, we don't have a shot," Gordon said. "We're just coming up short at a crucial time. Those guys have just knocked it out of the ballpark, and it would be tough to beat that even if we were hitting on all eight cylinders."

Johnson is poised to become the first driver to win consecutive titles since Gordon did it in 1997 and 1998. It would take a total collapse next week by a team that rarely falters for Johnson to not win the championship.

Still, crew chief Chad Knaus wasn't ready to claim the Cup just yet.

"Obviously were real happy to extend the points lead," Knaus said. "But going into Homestead, you never know."

"You never know what's going to happen. We could easily have an issue and not finish the race. We just have to stay focused and keep our heads down," he said.

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