Homestead: Season finale preview

* Take 5: Five Drivers Remain In Championship Contention Fantastic Finale: Five Drivers Have Chance At Championship DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 14, 2006) -- Jimmie Johnson has a tenuous grip on the points lead going into the finale of a...

* Take 5: Five Drivers Remain In Championship Contention

Fantastic Finale: Five Drivers Have Chance At Championship

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 14, 2006) -- Jimmie Johnson has a tenuous grip on the points lead going into the finale of a tumultuous Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.

Has a 63-point lead ever looked less safe?

That's the margin between Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and second-place Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford), as Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway approaches.

But you can bet Johnson's optimism is guarded. Here's why:

While a finish of 12th place or better will give him the championship, Johnson's average finish at HMS is 15.6, an average dragged down somewhat by last year's 40th-place finish caused by an accident.

On the other hand, it's not like any of the five drivers still eligible for the title has excelled at the South Florida 1.5-mile oval.

Of those five -- Johnson, Kenseth, Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet), Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Chevrolet) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) -- none have won a HMS race. And of the five, the best average finish is 9.4, posted by Harvick, who comes into Sunday third in points, 90 behind Johnson.

Harvick also comes off a stirring victory this past Sunday at Phoenix.

"There's really not a lot of pressure to tell you the truth," Harvick said "It's just go out and go as fast as you can and everybody knows that."

After falling back in the 10-driver pack early in the 10-race Chase, Johnson has climbed to the top of the standings with a series of solid runs. His overall excellence is reflected in his Driver Rating during the first nine races of the Chase -- a Chase-best 110.3.

"I never felt we were out of it," Johnson said. "I never conceded."

The second-best Chase Driver Rating belongs to fifth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. Obviously the long-shot pick coming into this week, Earnhardt is still talking like the contender he is, saying, "Homestead has been our worst track over the years, but that'll change this weekend."

-credit: nascar

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Denny Hamlin