Updated: November 12, 2012, 4:24 PM ET

Jimmie Johnson the forgotten man at Phoenix

Hinton By Ed Hinton
ESPN.com
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Amazing how Jimmie Johnson slipped so suddenly to such an afterthought on Sunday.

He had entered the Phoenix race viewed by many as unstoppable for a sixth Cup championship in seven years, and openly but softly acknowledged that a record eight titles is his goal.

Then, after the brawling had ceased in the pits and garages over Jeff Gordon's payback wrecking of Clint Bowyer … and Brad Keselowski had slipped through two melees to finish sixth and become odds-on favorite for the championship, first the Gordon-Bowyer wreck and then the wrecking in an oil slick within sight of the checkered flag because NASCAR officials had hesitated to throw a caution … there stood the almost forgotten Johnson, off to the side, speaking softly with ESPN pit reporter Dave Burns.

"It's way, way out of our control after the problem we had today," Johnson said of the championship, after smacking the wall with 77 laps left due to a tire that failed because of a melted bead caused by overheating brakes.

The "bead," by the way, is the rubber lip in the inside rim of the tire that extends around the circumference of the wheel and keeps the tire on. When it melts, the tire goes. Goodyear engineers reported that's what happened to Johnson.

He had overheated his brakes, trying to compensate for a car that was "tight," or understeering. He was pressing to maintain seventh place, just as he'd had Keselowski pressing in the previous two races, which Johnson had won.

Johnson had entered the race seven points ahead of Keselowski and was favored to win the duel with the youngster due to the championship-battle seasoning of Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus.

Johnson left the race 20 points down to Keselowski, who now must finish only 15th or better Sunday at Homestead-Miami (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) to win the championship, even if Johnson were to lead the most laps and win the race.

"I've been doing this a long time," Johnson told Burns. "I've won a few championships and I've lost a lot."

But he is known more for the five Cups he won, in a row, before faltering last year. And he was known up until the moment he hit the wall Sunday as a man likely to win a sixth title this time and then go on to tie and perhaps surpass the record of seven championships shared by Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.

The calm of Knaus in triumph and defeat never ceases to amaze, and his voice was almost serene on the radio after Johnson's impact.

"Wheel it around here, buddy, and we'll get some new tires on it and take a look at it," Knaus said.

"No brakes," Johnson said, just as calmly.

There never was even a rise in Knaus' voice until he warned crewmen, "You're gonna have to pick the car up first, to get the jack underneath it."

They're totally professional, win, lose or wreck -- meaning a sixth, a seventh, even an eighth championship is within reach for the 48 team, even if the total goes on hold for a second straight season.

"Losing isn't any fun, but we'll be back next weekend and next year, hungrier than ever," Johnson said, "and doing the best we can."

David Newton: Kes not happy | Live! rewind | Recap | Results | HighlightsSportsCenter  | The brawlSportsCenter 

Nationwide Series: Sadler self-destructs at Phoenix

All Saturday afternoon at Phoenix International Raceway, Elliott Sadler was a classic case study in trying too hard. And it cost him any realistic hope of the championship he'd wanted so badly.

First, he pressed in qualifying, wrecking his primary car, and had to start in the back in his backup. Then he pushed and pressed throughout the race, and finally wrecked with a lap and a half to go, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished third behind winner Joey Logano and Brian Vickers.

Sadler had come to Phoenix tied in points atop the standings with Stenhouse, but Stenhouse had the edge on a tiebreaker, with six wins this season to Sadler's four. So Sadler felt he had to press. He is now 20 points down headed into the season finale at Homestead-Miami on Saturday.

Stenhouse must finish only 16th or better to win his second straight Nationwide championship as he heads for Cup level next year to replace the departing Matt Kenseth at Roush Fenway Racing.

"I did it to myself," Sadler told ESPN reporters at the track. "I put my team in a hole, qualifying like we did. I just got a little loose getting under the 88 [Cole Whitt]. It was 100 percent my fault."

Even though Stenhouse is at the brink of another title, he spoke cautiously.

The 20-point lead "makes us feel good," he said, "but we've given up 20 points in one race [before], so it's not over 'til it's over."

Stenhouse hinted he might have had a shot at beating Logano and Vickers for the win if not for Sadler's wreck.

"That white-flag lap was gonna be really fun if we could have done without that caution," Stenhouse said.

The win was Logano's ninth in Nationwide this season, best in the series, but as a Cup regular he is not eligible for Nationwide points.

Recap | Results | Brant James: Patrick's late surge nets 10th | HighlightsSportsCenter 

Camping World Truck Series: Phoenix race doesn't disappoint

You want parity? Look to the Truck series, where on Friday night at Phoenix Brian Scott became the 15th different winner this season.

You want rising stars? Look to the Truck series, where 20-year-old Kyle Larson almost became the ninth first-time winner of 2012, holding off Scott until the final restart with two laps left.

You want scrambling in a championship hunt? James Buescher appeared headed for a breezy trip to Homestead-Miami for next week's season finale, but his late wreck tightened the standings, moving Timothy Peters to second place, 11 points back. Ty Dillon's own wreck and partial recovery dropped him to third in the standings but gained him three points on Buescher, so Dillon is now just 12 points behind.

You want candor? Listen to what Parker Kligerman told Speed channel reporters at Phoenix International Raceway, moments after wrecking himself from third in the standings back to fifth, 37 points down and essentially out of the hunt.

"If you look at the replay, it's not very impressive, is it?" Kligerman said after sliding into two other trucks and then popping the wall hard enough to ruin his chances. "You don't want to just get loose and nose into the wall. That's not very good driving. We were really loose … all night. But there's no blame but myself …"

Larson, fresh off clinching a season title in the developmental K&N Pro Series East, took the lead on a restart with 37 laps left and consistently held off Scott, even through a side-by-side confrontation with 27 to go. And after that, Larson worked traffic masterfully until Buescher's wreck, due to a blown right-front tire, brought out the final caution.

Scott, driving for Kyle Busch, got past Larson on the outside, exiting Turn 2, and was home free after that.

"Man, I had him beat on that green-flag run," said Larson, who came up through NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. "I got a restart there and he [Scott] took the air off me going into 1, and I got loose and he just worked the momentum around me."

Scott hadn't won in Trucks since 2009, mainly because he has been focusing on the Nationwide Series.

"Man, I miss this series," Scott said in Victory Lane. "This series is a lot of fun."

He got that right.

Recap | Results

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn.com.

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