All Chase long, we've considered the possibility that a fifth straight Jimmie Johnson victory is an inevitability, that everybody's racing for second place. And suddenly, that may not be the case after all. Let's take a look at how the 2010 Chase is setting up in comparison to the previous four Vader victories.
2008: Johnson was up 149 points on Greg Biffle, and the writing was already not just on the wall, but on the trophy as well.
2007: Jeff Gordon held the lead, but Johnson was closing fast, only 53 points behind. Nobody else was within 100 points of Gordon. And we all know how this story ended.
2006: This year may be the closest Chase, but 2006 was pretty damn exciting. Matt Kenseth had the lead, and seven other drivers were within 100 points of the lead: Harvick (36 back), Johnson (-41), Hamlin (-47), Jeff Burton (-48), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-94), Mark Martin (-96) and Kasey Kahne (-99). Now that there's a Chase. But, as with every other year, we know how this one worked out.
So there you have it. It's tighter now than either of the times where Johnson had the lead going into Talladega, and closer head-to-head than at any of the four previous Chases. (For the record, without the Chase, Harvick would be 264 points up on the field, and the season would be over.) None of the top three is out of the hunt, and Talladega, as always, will clarify it all even more.