Here's a theory on why Jimmie Johnson is the five-time defending champion and why he's the odds-on favorite to claim number six in a little more than a month: He wins.
It's a stretch, but hear me out, especially all you conspiracy theorists who can't help but scream bloody murder that NASCAR rigs things in Johnson's favor.
After Sunday's win in the Hollywood Casino 400, Johnson now has 20 Chase wins. No one else has won more than eight Chase races. Johnson has now led laps in each of the last nine races and 11 of the last 12, supporting the whacky theory that Team 48 is at its best whenever the Chase rolls around.
Outside of the 48 car possibly running out of fuel and a few late cautions that brought the field back into play, no one was in Johnson's league Sunday. He led 192 of 272 laps and at one point had built more than an eight-second lead.
Oh, but it's all equipment, right?
Fact is, Johnson is in a league of his own, and if the 12-win advantage he has in the Chase doesn't tell you that, nothing will.
"I don't pay attention to that stuff that's out there, and I live in my little world, and I know what my team is capable of," Johnson said Sunday. "We showed today what we're capable of when all things – when we're all performing at the top of our game, and hopefully we can do that for six more weeks."
After dropping to tenth in the standings two races into the Chase, Johnson is right back near the top sitting in third, just four points back of Carl Edwards, who pulled off a miraculous fifth-place finish to grab sole possession of the points lead.
Come the Chase finale on Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami, Edwards could be looking at Sunday's rally as a Chase saver. But to make it so, he'll have to hang with Johnson, who has a decided historical advantage over his closest competitors at the next four tracks.
Here is a comparison between Johnson, Edwards and Kevin Harvick (second in the standings, one point back of Edwards) at the final six tracks in the Chase:
• Charlotte: Johnson's average Chase finish there is 4.0 to Edwards' 17.8 and Harvick's 19.0.
• Talladega: Wild Card No. 1, though Johnson did win there in April.
• Martinsville: Arguably Johnson's best track, his average Chase finish is an unfathomable 2.0. Edwards' is 13.3, Harvick's 10.2, though he did win there in April.
• Texas: Johnson has posted an 11.6 Chase average there, which is still better than Edwards (15.1) but slightly worse than Harvick (7.8).
• Phoenix: Wild Card No. 2 because of the recent reconfiguration to the track. Normally this is where Johnson solidifies his title run or climbs back in it, which he did a year ago. Johnson hasn't finished worse than seventh there since 2005, but the reconfiguration makes this race wholly unpredictable.
• Homestead-Miami: Johnson has never had to be great at this track because he usually has the title wrapped up by then, but still he has been way above average. In his five title runs, he's finished no worse than 15th, and that was his only finish outside the top 10. If it's close, Edwards would have an historical advantage, having posted a 5.7 average finish there. Harvick hasn't been bad there, either, finishing third, third and second in his last three Homestead races.
Yes, there are a handful of others who shouldn't be counted out yet. Brad Keselowski is just 11 points back and won't go away. Neither will Matt Kenseth (12 points behind) or Kurt Busch (16 back). And Tony Stewart (-19 points) and Kyle Busch (-20 points) are still hanging around.
For now they all remain contenders, but for how much longer can they hang with Johnson? Because on Sunday, no one could stay with him. He was in a league of his own, much like he's been since 2006.
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