NSCS Homestead Preview: It Isn't over Until It's over for Johnson

Jim BobCorrespondent INovember 18, 2009

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 15:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, races during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2009 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

While it appears the 108-point lead Jimmie Johnson has accrued over his teammate Mark Martin will suffice for a history-making ceremony after Homestead-Miami Speedway, it isn't over 'til it's over.

If it isn't enough, however, it wouldn't be the first time Martin has gained 108 points on Johnson.  In fact, it would be the tenth time if he does it this weekend.

Back in 2002 at Rockingham, Martin gained a total of 128 points on Johnson.  It doesn't stop there for the five-time bridesmaid, however.  He has seen gains as high has 132 points, which he posted at Michigan, in 2004, and Miami, the same track they are coming to this weekend, in 2005.

Finally, Martin was able to gain a total of 111 points this year at Texas when Johnson wrecked on lap three and finish the race in 38th.

Assuming Martin has a maximum points day—wins and leads the most laps—Johnson could finish no lower than 25th.  This is something that the El Cajon, Calif. native has done only one time in his Sprint Cup Series career at Homestead.  That race was in 2005 when he was involved in a lap 124 accident that ended his day early and sent him home 40th.

In case you didn't notice, that 40th place finish occurred in the same year that Martin was able to gain 132 points on Johnson.

Races like the one in 2005 at Homestead and two weeks ago at Texas are exactly the thing that humbles Johnson.  He acknowledges the great position he has placed himself in, but he won't forget about how fast it all can turn around.

“That's a great position to be in," Johnson said.  "We finish 38th (at Texas) so I can't put my guard down.  Anything and everything that could wrong (at Texas) did. So, going into the race next weekend, I need to show up and race smart and do our thing.

“... we need to show up down there (in Homestead) and treat it like any other race.  The further forward we start, the better we are going to be track position wise.  Better pit stall selection we are going to have so until we get in the race and see what we really have, we're going to treat it like any other race and just go as fast as we can.”

In a head-to-head competition comparing just the races they have participated in together, from 2001-2001, Johnson has the upper hand, beating Martin four out of seven times.  Each of them have one DNF (did not finish) apiece in their respective careers racing at Homestead.

Martin did not race at Homestead in 2008, a race in which Johnson finished 15th to coast to his most recent and third consecutive title.

Taking all that into consideration, a 108-point gain in the final race of the season doesn't happen.  In fact, since the current points system was put into place by NASCAR in 1975, no driver has overcome more than a 30-point deficit in the final event of the season.

However, they say in order to win a championship, you must lose one first.  For Martin, he has lost five times.

Will Martin be the one making history in the way of becoming the oldest champion in NASCAR's highest series and earning the largest comeback in the modern points system's history?  Or will it be Johnson's bid for four consecutive titles that earns him a page in the NASCAR history books and set him aside from the others among NASCAR's all-time greats?

This weekend, those questions will finally be put to rest as the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series comes to an end.

Weekend Headlines:

While the championship hasn't yet been grasped, Rick Hendrick has clinched the owner's championship—he just doesn't know which car he will be representing at the Las Vegas awards banquet held on December 4.  As the champion gets his crown on Sunday, Hendrick will move into the all-time owner's championship across all three of NASCAR's national touring series lead with 12, breaking a tie he held previously with Richard Childress.

Those inside of the top-35 in owner's points will be guaranteed a starting spot for the first five races next season.  The separation between the 35th place ride of John Andretti (No. 37) is 114 points from falling out of the coveted spot by 36th place Scott Speed (No. 82).

A couple of relationships are ending after the Homestead race.  Martin Truex Jr. will be leaving Earnhardt Ganassi Racing for Michael Waltrip Racing and Kurt Busch will be in his last race with crew chief Pat Tryson, as Tryson heads over to MWR with Truex Jr.

One last shot at redemption:  Dale Earnhardt Jr. is one race away from suffering his second season without a points-paying win in his full-time Sprint Cup Series career.  Earnhardt's last win was a Michigan more than a year ago.

Weekend Quotes:

Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge: “Pat (Tryson) has been a great team leader and we’ve had a lot of success together and a ton of fun along the way. While it’ll be sad knowing that Homestead will be our final race together, we’ve pledged to put all emotions aside and focus on scoring one final trip to Victory Lane there this weekend.”

Erik Darnell, driver of the No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing Ford:  “This will be my seventh Cup start and I feel like we’ve been a little better in the past couple of races, even though our finishes don’t really reflect that. (Crew chief) Ben Leslie and all of the guys have worked really hard on our race packages and I’ve become more comfortable in these cars. I don’t think we’re quite up there with the 48 (of Johnson) and the 5 (of Martin) yet—those guys are flying—but we’re making improvements.”

David Reutimann, driver of the No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota:  "Well, I know why it’s (Homestead) one of my favorite tracks. The first reason is because it's located in my home state of Florida, which means I'll have more fans, friends and family cheering me on. Second is because I’ve had some success at the track. I've won three poles there, including my first in the Sprint Cup Series last year."

Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Old Spice/Office Depot Chevrolet: “We’re just going out there to try and win the race.  That’s all we can do.  We’re not in a championship battle, but we’re still in a battle for points.  We still have to go out and do the best we can to get as many points as we can.”

Weekend Information:

What: Ford 400
Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, Fla.
When: Sunday, November 22 at 3:15 p.m. ET
Length: 267 laps/400.5 miles
Television: ABC, 2:30 p.m. ET
2008 Winner: Carl Edwards
2008 Polesitter: David Reutimann