Jimmie Johnson is 400 miles from making history.
With his third consecutive Sprint Cup Series championship at hand, all Johnson has to do is finish 36th or better in Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to join Cale Yarborough as the only drivers to win three consecutive championships.
His 141-point lead over Carl Edwards is the biggest margin he has had going into the final race. Last year he led Jeff Gordon by 86, and two years ago Matt Kenseth was 63 back.
That might explain why Johnson's anxiety level is so low.
“I really think where we are in points is going to ... take a little pressure off my brain this week,” Johnson said. “We can just go down and relax and get in the car and set it up, just do what we know how to do. We'll 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.”
Last year, Johnson won the pole and led the first lap, collecting five bonus points for leading a lap. That was the last lap he led. He settled in and finished seventh. Johnson is winless at Homestead but has five top tens in seven starts. Homestead is one of six tracks in the series where he has yet to win.
“I'm really excited about Homestead, and there's no need to do anything stupid,” 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 per cent to go for the win, there's no need to. But if we can go out there and win the race like we did (in Phoenix), let's do it.”
Last week at Phoenix, Johnson led 217 of 312 laps en route to his seventh win of the year. Edwards finished fourth - a great result - but he fell another 35 points behind Johnson.
Even though Edwards knows catching Johnson is unlikely - “It's possible, not real probable,” he said after Phoenix - he still has a lot to race for Sunday.
“Let's get one thing straight,” Edwards said Thursday. “I want to beat him as much as anything in the world, and I will be proud if we end up on top of this thing. If it all lines up and everything works out, it's only going to make it more enjoyable to beat him because of the competitor that he is.
“I'm hoping Jimmie forgets how to drive or has some sort of trouble between now and Sunday. We're just going to have to have great luck. We saw what happened with (Jeff Gordon's) engine last week. If something like that were to happen, we just have to make sure that we're there to capitalise and do the best (we can).”
by Charles Krall/Sporting News