The final Chase for the Sprint Cup championship press conference of 2013 played out like an off-brand kids' movie: pleasant, utterly predictable, with nary an unexpected turn anywhere. But that's what happens when your final weekend is edging away from "race" and toward "coronation."
Three years ago, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick utterly mind-screwed Denny Hamlin. Two years ago, Tony Stewart played psychological ninja on Carl Edwards. Last year, Johnson tried to rattle Brad Keselowski. This year? Johnson holds a 28-point edge over Matt Kenseth, and as the challenger noted, only a miraculous misfire could keep Johnson from his sixth championship:
"Obviously we're not going to make up the deficit on performance. I think Jimmie could run 28th through the grass or with three wheels on," Kenseth laughed. "He's going to have to have a mechanical problem or crash to make something happen. We'll have to be up in the top five to hold on to second or to overtake Jimmie if he has a problem."
"Realistically the only things we can control are what we do," said Harvick, who's 34 points back. "It's definitely a really, really long shot. But we'll control the things that are in our control and see how it all falls."
Kenseth and Harvick didn't even try to mess with Johnson's head. Why bother? It's not like either of them could get in there, and it's not like they could do much damage if they did. Johnson said all the right things, keeping distractions and locker-room quotes to a minimum. And he says hasn't even begun to think about that championship.
"I'm just focused on getting in the car and doing all that I can on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, minimizing the stakes, all those types of things," he said. "I've really tried hard not to go down that road and think about those things. I think it would be a mistake."
There were a few surprises, none related to the competition itself. One came in the news that the reigning Sprint Cup champion would get a Hall of Fame vote, a nice nod to linking the present with the past.
The drivers were all asked about the Chase itself, and while Johnson was pleased, Kenseth naturally wished for a little more latitude in the points department. Harvick gave an interesting answer, echoing many fans:
"Things I don't like about it are the same racetracks year after year," he said. "I think it would help our schedule, it would help some of the racetracks, help build some excitement around some different racetracks. I think there needs to be a road course in it. I think there definitely needs to be some things mixed up in it. I think the format is great, but I think the tracks need to change on a yearly basis."
Festivities at Homestead kick off on Friday, with the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 coming Sunday afternoon.