Two races to go in the Chase for the Championship and it appears to pretty much be down to a two car race. Yes technically only Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne have be officially eliminated from contention. But if we are real with third place Kevin Harvick almost a full race back in the points, it really is down to just two Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.
So the biggest question in all this is this Jimmie Johnson, the five-time Jimmie Johnson? The one who is nails in the chase and basically unbreakable? Is this the season he returns to the top and takes his sixth title? Or is the 48 team that has faltered in the last two championship races, including under nearly identical circumstances one year ago.
“At this point of the season if you're in contention, you've got more pressure than you ever wanted to,” said Johnson. “It's just there. So I don't know if this puts anymore. They were able to get some points on us last week. We got some on them this week, so I'm not sure.”
That’s not to say Johnson hasn’t grown from his failures. Quite the opposite. The 48 team left Texas up seven points on eventual champions Brad Keselowski, but couldn’t hang on to the lead. This season, up seven on Kenseth…
“I mean, we learn lessons each and every year, “ said Johnson. “I feel better about Phoenix, honestly, than I did last year leaving here. Then last year we did not test Homestead and we just came back from Homestead, and that test went really well. So I'm optimistic. I feel good.”
But is good, good enough? No disrespect to BK, but as a former champion of the sport, you have to feel like Kenseth is a more formidable opponent, at least on paper.
“The lesson in all of that is I'm not counting on anything, and I have to go to Phoenix and race, same asHomestead,” said Johnson. “It does simplify things a little bit. I'm not going to get too excited about things during the course of the week. I'm going to work real hard and train my butt off. Stay in this little world that I've been living in for the last five or six months, but more so the last eight weeks, and show up ready to go these next two weeks.”
If he can, Johnson could trade the six shooters he won this past weekend, for a six-pack of Sprint Cup trophies. One short of Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. And impressive feat that would affirm his place as one of the best whoever jumped on a race car.
“His confidence was never down,” said team owner Rick Hendrick.” (Crew Chief) Chad (Knaus)'s confidence was never down because we could see what was causing the problem, and it was out of their control, really.”