NASCAR Phoenix 2013: Jimmie Johnson takes control of championship

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Despite two near-crashes, Jimmie Johnson persevered to finish third, and finds himself in the driver’s seat to win a sixth series championship.

It wasn't a day without adventure or close calls. But when the checkered flag flew, Jimmie Johnson finished third in the AdvoCare 500 and took a giant step towards winning his sixth NASCAR championship.

Starting on the pole, Johnson's eventful afternoon began on the opening lap as he led the field into Turn 1. Joey Logano, starting third, dove underneath the No. 48 car pushing him up the track. As Johnson gathered up his Chevrolet, losing five spots in the process, crew chief Chad Knaus implored him to "find a rhythm."

"Two different points as I saved it the car pointed back at the fence, and I thought I was going to hit it."-Jimmie Johnson

Johnson did just that and settled in, consistently running near the front. However, following a pit stop near the halfway mark, he found himself stuck in traffic due to varying strategies being utilized by other teams.

It was then on the restart Johnson experienced his biggest scare of the day.

He was running to the outside of Carl Edwards when Kevin Harvick went to the inside of Edwards and made it three-wide as the trio barreled into Turn 1. Edwards washed up the track and made contact with the No. 48 car. Johnson, again, nearly wrecked but was able to hang on, a skill he jokingly attributed post-race to his experience in off-road truck racing.

"Two different points as I saved it the car pointed back at the fence, and I thought I was going to hit it," Johnson said. "Thankful that that didn't happen, clearly. Certainly worried me, and then we were mired in traffic after that and I didn't know what that was going to mean for us.

"... Seemed shortly thereafter we left pit road and the 20 (Matt Kenseth) was behind me again ... then I felt like I knew where I could manage things and it was about trying to get points again, and I found my way up to third."

Jokes aside, Johnson dropped to 25th overall. A day that looked to be advantageous to his title hopes as Matt Kenseth struggled soon looked anything but. Exercising patience, though, Johnson recovered and drove his way back up front.

The third-place finish combined with Kenseth's off day -- he finished 23rd and for the first time in the Chase failed to lead a lap -- gave Johnson a commanding lead of 28 points with just one race remaining. To clinch his sixth series title, Johnson must finish 23rd or better without leading a lap; 24th if he collects a bonus point for leading a single lap; or 25th if he leads the most laps.

"We're heading into Homestead in the position we want to be in," Johnson said. "I'll have to go down there and run 400 miles. It's far from over. You've got to finish that race. Although we have a nice cushion, we still have to go down there and take care of business.

"The big prize at the end of the day is what we're focused on. It's not so much that individual win, but we need to go down there and be prepared and treat Friday and Saturday like we need to win the race so we can make the car as comfortable and as fast as possible to give us all our options on Sunday."

More from SB Nation:

Complete coverage of the 2013 Sprint Cup Chase

Johnson takes points lead with dominant victory

Another runner-up finish for Dale, Jr.

NASCAR power rankings: Kenseth surges past Johnson

The good times, hard life and shocking death of Dick Trickle

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