We're four races into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and Jeff Gordon has written his concession speech.

It goes something like this:

"Yeah, they have something magical about the final ten races. You know, these ten tracks really suit them. They do an incredible job. What else can you say? They're the best out there. They've won the last three championships. They're going to be hard to beat for this one. Really, unless they make a mistake, I don't see how they lose it."

"They," of course, are driver Jimmie Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the #48 Hendrick Motorsports team, the outfit that -- after two wins in the first four Chase races -- is the odds-on choice to win a record fourth straight Cup title.

Other drivers polished off the eulogies for their Chase aspirations in Sunday's Pepsi 400 at Auto Club Speedway, where Johnson won in a romp, and Gordon fashioned a blue-collar second-place finish.

Brian Vickers' demise was a broken right rear shock tower that made his #83 Toyota handle like a pogo stick. Vickers also caught a piece of a multicar wreck on lap 245 and finished 29th. He's twelfth in the standings, 351 points behind Johnson and out of the championship picture.

Kasey Kahne saw a promising run laid to rest when Kurt Busch's runaway Dodge bounced of the turn four wall and knocked Kahne's Dodge into Greg Biffle's Ford. The lap 245 wreck delivered the coup de grace. At 306 points out of first place, Kahne also is out of contention.

Ryan Newman finished 15th after an up-and-down day that included a blown tyre on lap 81. Now 223 points behind Johnson, Newman has very little air left in his title hopes. Newman fell from ninth to 15th after the final restart on lap 248 of 250. "We had the inside lane on that last restart, and that was kind of the doom of death for us," Newman said.

Denny Hamlin fell on his sword on a lap 190 restart, when he tried to move to the bottom of the track. One problem: Juan Pablo Montoya's Chevy was already there. With his Toyota heavily damaged, Hamlin finished 37th and took a 120-point hit in the standings. He dropped from sixth to ninth, 219 points behind Johnson. "Made contact with the nose of the 42 (Montoya) and ended up taking ourselves out," Hamlin said. "I was just a dumb mistake." No disagreement here.

The Chase prospects of Carl Edwards (192 points behind) and Biffle (188 back) are on life support. If you listen to the tone of resignation in Gordon's voice, however, not even Mark Martin -- 12 points behind his team-mate -- has much of a chance.

"We're doing everything we can to be good enough, but it's just not there," Gordon said after moving up two spots in the standings to fifth, 105 points behind Johnson. "So we've got to search and find something. You know, we've got to be better than that. I feel like Charlotte's a good track for us (Oct. 17), and I'm looking forward to going there.

"And hopefully we can make up the ground that we're lacking. Maybe it's just in the setup. Maybe we've got to look at our cars a little bit more. I mean, it's our teammate, but they're in another category. We saw it at Dover, and we certainly saw it here."

Johnson cautions that there are still six races left before the championship is decided. And it's worth remembering that Johnson rallied from a 156-point deficit after four races to win the 2006 Chase.

There's a fundamental difference, however, between 2006 and 2009. When Johnson won his first title three years ago, he didn't have to beat Jimmie Johnson.
by Reid Spencer/Sporting News