With a 28-point lead on Matt Kenseth going into Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Jimmie Johnson pretty much just has to show up to clinch his sixth Sprint Cup championship.
Okay, that's a slight exaggeration.
Having won a NASCAR record five straight championships from 2006 through 2010, Johnson has to finish no lower than 25th at HMS to easily change his reigning nickname from "five-time" to "six-time."
Here are the clinching scenarios for Johnson. He must:
1) Finish 23rd or better.
2) Finish 24th or better with at least one lap led.
3) Finish 25th or better with the most laps led.
So, in almost identical fashion to the situations he faced heading into Homestead each of the prior five years he won the Cup crown, Johnson just has to take it smooth and easy, stay out of trouble and essentially coast to the championship.
If and when that happens, he'll move one step closer toward tying Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt for most Cup championships in a career (seven each).
Prior to Sunday's race at Phoenix, expectations were high that Johnson and Matt Kenseth would have a classic battle at Homestead, given Kenseth was only seven points behind JJ heading into Phoenix.
The thinking was that if Kenseth could leave PIR within 10 points of Johnson, it would force Johnson to forget about strategy and various numeric possibilities and focus on just one thing to win the championship: winning the race at Homestead to clinch everything.
But after Kenseth's struggles at Phoenix, Johnson has virtually no pressure on himself. All the pressure is now on Kenseth to try and somehow rally back—something that no other driver has been able to do in the five years Johnson went on to win the championship.
Johnson won't be in the situation he was a year ago at Homestead, coming in 20 points behind Brad Keselowski and hoping to still rally back.
Unfortunately for Johnson and the 48 team, a pit road lug nut bobble early on and then a rear gear breaking as he tried to play catch-up sealed Johnson's fate—and championship hopes—that day, as Brad Keselowski went on to win his first Cup crown.
Granted, Johnson has never won at Homestead in his career, one of only five tracks that he has not taken the checkered flag at.
Kenseth, meanwhile, has one win at Homestead and typically does well there.
But with a 28-point lead, Johnson doesn't have to worry about winning. Heck, he could start at the back of the field, ride around mid-pack for the entire race and still win the championship.
The pressure indeed is on Kenseth, but there's also reason for at least one bit of optimism: let's not forget what happened to Jeff Gordon last week at Texas.
Gordon was 27 points back and in third place heading into Fort Worth. Unfortunately, he had his worst race of the season, losing a record 42 points in one day, and saw his hopes for a fifth Cup crown stopped completely and cold.
That's the same kind of scenario that Kenseth and the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing have to hope for Johnson at Homestead.
It's their only hope, really.
Unfortunately, it's not likely to happen.
In his previous five Cup-clinching situations at the 1.5-mile South Florida track, Johnson has never really had any bad luck or misfortune befall him.
If anything, all of the other drivers on the track gave Johnson a little bit extra room deserving of a pending champion, especially someone whose closest challengers each time barely had a chance of catching him.
After all, who wants to have the stigma or reputation of being the guy who made a mistake or wrecked Johnson, costing the latter the championship?
While I don't want to get ahead of myself, I leave you with one last thing to ponder:
For argument sake, let's say that Johnson wins the championship Sunday at Homestead, his sixth.
Could that potentially be the start of yet another streak of five more championships in a row?
It's something to think about—and something every other Cup driver should be scared as hell about.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski
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