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Jimmie Johnson’s once insurmountable points lead is now not so large

The talk of Jimmie Johnson being able to skip the Richmond race due to the birth of his second child and still be able to hang on to his points lead seems like a memory from ages ago.

Yes, Johnson wouldn't damage his Chase hopes if his wife Chandra, was to go into labor in two weeks and the five-time Sprint Cup champion elected to step out of the car for the final race before the Chase. He's already locked in. But it now seems a lot less plausible after his point lead over Clint Bowyer has dwindled from 75 to 18 points over the last two races.

And now, thanks to Matt Kenseth's win at Bristol Saturday night, Johnson may be needing a win in that race to even himself up with Kenseth when the Chase begins at Chicago.

After starting 13th, the handling on Johnson's car was never quite right once the green flag began, and crew chief Chad Knaus and crew took every opportunity they could to adjust Johnson's No. 48. However, those adjustments didn't send Johnson screaming towards the front of the pack. Instead, he continued mired near the back half of the lead lap.

Then on lap 360, any hope for a good finish went out the window. David Reutimann was three cars in front of Johnson, who was running 17th, and after contact from Brian Vickers, went spinning up into the wall. Johnson hopped on the brakes and dove low amidst the tire smoke from Reutimann's car.

But as he did that, Reutimann started sliding down the banking, right into Johnson's path. The water that started spewing from his radiator was an immediate sign that Johnson was headed to the garage.

His crew got him back on track, but Johnson ultimately finished 60 laps down in 36th.

"Last week I really think we had a shot to win and had an engine failure," Johnson said. "But it's racing, stuff happens. Thankfully we had a big points lead that we can kind of deal with right now and we've locked into the Chase, but we certainly want to clean things up and have some great finishes rolling into the Chase."

Johnson was 9th last week after driving from the back of the field at Michigan when his engine expired. There, Bowyer finished fifth, and at Bristol, he finished 14th. Though that finish could have been better; Bowyer ran out of gas on the final lap and ended up as the last car on the lead lap.

Johnson and team have always seemed to perform best the moment that doubt starts to sink in. Because of that, it wouldn't be surprising in the slightest if the No. 48 led 200 laps next week at Atlanta and was once again tied with Kenseth. But even if that will come true, it's now not so crazy to think that Bowyer's name will be atop the standings before the Chase.

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