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Phoenix recap: Johnson fifth, Martin eighth

AVONDALE, Ariz. (Nov. 14, 2010) – Jimmie Johnson stretched out a tank of fuel on Sunday to finish fifth at Phoenix International Raceway and keep his hopes alive for earning his fifth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. He was joined in the top 15 by teammates Mark Martin in eighth, Jeff Gordon in 11th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 14th.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet, lined up 21st in Sunday’s event and patiently worked his way through the field. A four-time winner at the desert oval, Johnson cracked the top 10 by Lap 75 and continued to chase then-race leader Denny Hamlin. Hamlin continued to dominate as the race unfolded, but the No. 48 team caught a break during the final 89 laps, which ran under green-flag conditions. Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48 Chevy, coached Johnson to save fuel with about 25 laps to go, while Hamlin’s team opted to make a stop with 10 laps to go. The final pit stop cost Hamlin position, and Johnson was able to gain 18 points on him in the championship hunt. Johnson still ranks second behind Hamlin in the standings, but only by 15 points as the Series heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the season finale.

Martin, driver of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, crossed the finish line eighth on Sunday after lining up 28th for the 312-mile event.  Martin ranks 13th in the standings, which is the highest he can finish in the postseason system.

Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, scored the 11th-place finish on Sunday after rolling off the grid 22nd. Gordon remains sixth in the championship standings.

Earnhardt crossed the finish line 14th in his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Paint the 88/National Guard Chevrolet, after starting the race 31st. Earnhardt drove a specially painted No. 88 Chevrolet, which he selected from almost 10,000 entries in the Paint the 88 contest. The green-and-white scheme was designed by Jason Corino, of Colorado Springs, Colo.

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