From the Marbles - NASCAR

So this whole "Jimmie's destined for a fifth Cup championship" thing doesn't seem quite such a sure thing any longer. It may happen, though he's going to have to earn it. As you'll see below, this is the tightest Chase of any that Johnson's managed to win since 2005. The past may or may not be prelude:

2010: Johnson extended his lead over Denny Hamlin to a full 14 points, but Kevin Harvick tightened it up to get within only 38 points. Johnson has now pulled off six straight top-10s, an impressive feat. But how long can it continue? (FYI: Without the Chase, Harvick would be 288 points up on Johnson, the same spot he's been in since the spring. Still want that full-season, no-Chase championship hunt?)

2009: Mark Martin was 184 points back of Johnson, and Gordon was 192 points back. This lead allowed Johnson to survive an early wreck at Texas that could have turned the entire Chase upside down. But it didn't.

2008: In a near-duplicate of 2009, Carl Edwards was 183 points down, and Greg Biffle was 185 points back. Edwards was in the midst of a late charge that saw him win three of the last four races, but Johnson was so far ahead that it didn't matter.

2007:  The rundown was afoot. Johnson was just 9 points behind Gordon, and the drums were sounding. Clint Bowyer was 111 points down, but nobody much cared. This was setting up well for a teammate-vs.-teammate drama, and we know how it all turned out.

2006: The Chase was tight, but the ending was becoming clear. Matt Kenseth still led, with Johnson just 26 points back. Denny Hamlin was 65 down, and both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton were 84 points down. And since Johnson hadn't yet won one Cup, much less four, everybody was cool with the 48 charging.

There you have it. You've got to like Johnson's chances here, as he's the only championship-tested one of the three, but even the slightest misstep and he slides back in the pack. If he wins this one, he'll have earned it.

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