After his dominant win Sunday at Phoenix, Jimmie Johnson holds a firm grip on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title heading into this weekend's season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver, who has racked up seven victories this season, only needs a 36th or higher place finish to become the second driver to win three consecutive championships. Johnson would join legend Cale Yarborough as the only other racer with the coveted trifecta.
Johnson has enjoyed a tremendous Chase run so far, with three wins, six top fives, and only one finish outside the top-10. His 4.7 average finishing position is better than his past two championship-winning Chases, which perhaps takes some pressure off heading into what will be a busy weekend for the El Cajon, California native, on and off the track.
"I really think where we are in points is going to allow me to go to Homestead and take a little pressure off my brain this week," Johnson said. "Last week I beat it senseless and just go down and relax and get in the car and set it up, just do what we know how to do, go shoot for the pole on Friday with no pressure. And same thing in race practice; just get the car driving good and comfortable and make sure it has speed in it."
Johnson's now 141-point lead over Carl Edwards is almost unbeatable. Even if the Roush Fenway Racing driver were to win and lead the most laps, it still wouldn't be enough unless Johnson's luck ends very early in the race. However, Edwards could always come close. The most points the Missouri native has gained on Johnson in one race was 127 at Homestead, four years ago.
"It's possible, not real probable, but I guarantee that's not going to change the way we do business," Edwards said after his fourth-place finish at Phoenix. "We're going to go to Homestead with everything we've got and be aggressive and try to win the race. Mile-and-halfs have been our best tracks lately, and I just wish we could've run a little better [at Phoenix]. But, we ran pretty well, we just didn't have enough time. We kept barely marching forward, my guys did a really good job. Congratulations to Jimmie and those guys. They're making this really tough."
Edwards will be in pursuit for two NASCAR series titles this weekend, as he hopes to become a two-time Nationwide Series champion in Saturday's Ford 300. His 56-point deficit to Clint Bowyer is possible to make up, especially considering Edward's charge forward in recent races.
Johnson, though, will set his sole focus on Sunday's race, and if he holds on to the title, it will give a little history to his team as well. Johnson's championship would be Rick Hendrick's eighth crown as an owner, joining Jeff Gordon's four, Johnson's previous two, and Terry Labonte's title in 1996.
"I'm really excited about [this weekend], and there's no need to do anything stupid by all stretch by every way you look at it," Johnson said. "But at the same time, how cool would it be to win out? I still think we can do that. I'd love to do that. And that's what our goals are. If we get in the race and I've got to drive at 110 percent to go for the win, there's no need to."