Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Johnson on Edge despite Big Chase Lead; He Can Win His Fourth Sprint Cup Title in a Row Sunday in Homestead

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Johnson on Edge despite Big Chase Lead; He Can Win His Fourth Sprint Cup Title in a Row Sunday in Homestead

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

The calm, calculated and relaxed demeanor apparently is a fraud. When it comes to winning a record fourth consecutive Sprint Cup Series championship, Jimmie Johnson is a wreck.

He lifts weights at night because he can't sleep. He isn't watching television this week because he doesn't want to be reminded of what he needs to do this Sunday in the Ford 400. Peace won't come until he climbs inside his No. 48 Chevrolet at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the final stop in the Chase for the Championship.

Racing is the only way Johnson finds solace. At 180 mph, his mind is free to think about less complicated things. The only thing that will matter when he practices and qualifies for the season finale is speed, not points or championship-clinching scenarios.

"I am just dying to get in the race car," Johnson said. "I'm poring through my notes. I've driven hundreds of laps in my mind before I go to bed each night, worrying about qualifying trim, worrying about race trim, all the things I can do to prepare myself on my side. I'm there. I'm eager for [Sunday]. It will help getting in the car, getting a feel for the track, the tires, what our challenges are."

Johnson and Mark Martin, the only two drivers still alive in the Chase, talked for the last time before Sunday's race. Once they get to the track, their only responsibilities will be with their race teams.

Johnson's quest for a record-setting fourth championship in a row essentially requires him to avoid trouble in the 267-lap race. If he finishes 25th or better, Martin can't catch him.

If Martin finishes ninth or worse, he can't make up the 108-point deficit as he tries to become the oldest champion in Sprint Cup Series history.

"I've run some laps [in my mind]," Martin said. "He's not the only one."

Actually Jeff Gordon could win the championship, but only if Johnson isn't able to race Sunday. …

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