Jimmie Johnson sits seventh in the championship standings, a whopping 50 points off the lead.
He's not giving up hopes for a sixth consecutive title yet, but the road ahead is a daunting one, to say the least.
Fifty points is more than the maximum points that can be scored in one race, and there are just four races left in the Sprint Cup season. Points leader Carl Edwards has been the Jimmie Johnson of the 2011 Chase, scoring top 10s in every race except Talladega, where he finished a safe and solid 11th.
However, there's a blueprint for what it would take for Johnson to win, and it's a blueprint of his own making.
In 2007, Johnson trailed his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon at the halfway point in the Chase. Gordon had won two Chase races and appeared set to win his first championship since 2001 and fifth overall.
But Johnson wasn't done—far from it.
He proceeded to win the sixth Chase race at Martinsville. He won the next week at Atlanta. And the next week at Texas. And the following week at Phoenix.
By the time the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway rolled around, Johnson had a sizable lead in the points and didn't need a fifth consecutive win. However, he wasn't content to give less than his best, so Johnson went out and won the pole, led a lap and then settled down for a comfortable ride to a title-clinching seventh-place finish.
Of course, Johnson's task will be more difficult this time around.
He trails the leader by a more substantial margin, and there are four races remaining rather than five. In addition, there are six drivers ahead of him in the points instead of just one.
If anyone can do it, Johnson is surely the one. The tracks ahead are great for him, especially this week's race at Martinsville, where Johnson has an average finish of second in the Chase with four wins and a worst result of fifth.
Can Johnson win the next four races? It's possible, though, not likely, of course. And for him to win the championship would almost certainly require a major slipup by Edwards and the drivers ahead of him in the points. But it would be unwise to count out the five-time defending champion with so much racing still to come.
I, for one, won't count Johnson out until he's mathematically eliminated.
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