At this point, the 2013 Sprint Cup finale at Homestead-Miami is expected to serve as an entertaining victory lap for Jimmie Johnson. Barring a huge stroke of bad luck, Johnson will wrap up his sixth individual title on Sunday in the Ford EcoBoost 400.
Technically, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick still have a mathematical chance to overtake him in the final event of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup, but even they have conceded it will be tough to keep Johnson from hoisting the 2013 championship.
Here's a look at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings heading into the final race of the year.
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||88||2321||63|
According to Lars Anderson of Sports Illustrated, a 23rd-place finish or better would wrap up the title for JJ, no matter what Kenseth does. That's not to say it can't happen, with Johnson finishing worse than 23rd on five different occasions this year.
But he is expected to race conservatively on Sunday to keep his No. 48 in good shape and will likely get some help from his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports along the way.
If Johnson is to lock up the Sprint Cup, he would enter elite company, with Richard Petty (seven) and Dale Earnhardt (seven) as the only drivers in NASCAR history to win at least six championships. Petty recently told David Caraviello of NASCAR.com that Johnson has the ability to win eight to 10 titles when it's all said and done.
With all of his titles coming since 2006, Johnson will throw his name into the hat for greatest athlete of the past decade. That is, if you consider him an athlete.
Ex-NFL quarterback and current Fox Sports 1 commentator Donovan McNabb recently stoked up the age-old debate of whether or not NASCAR drivers are athletes, and Johnson took to Twitter to voice his opinion:
The debate continues... Everyone is entitled to an opinion. #DriversAreAthletes— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) November 16, 2013
The hashtag says it all.
Kenseth has to be nearly perfect on Sunday if he wants to have a chance to catch Johnson. He'll be in good shape to start the race, as he won pole position during qualifying on Friday.
Kenseth followed that up another fast practice on Saturday, per Marty Smith of ESPN:
Kenseth wins Sat. morning practice. Fastest on the board. Harv 5th. JJ 15th.— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) November 16, 2013
Following his 28th-place finish last week in Phoenix, Kenseth said, "Of course I’m disappointed. We basically go (to Homestead-Miami) without a shot to win (the Cup)," per Greg Engle of CBS Miami.
For now, he can only hope for a quick car and a mechanical issue or a wreck from Johnson. But if the weekend so far has been any indication, don't expect Kenseth to go down without a fight.