Johnson closes in

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 11, 2006

Jimmie Johnson is in a great position to walk away with this first Nextel Cup championship in two weeks. Johnson finished second to the best driver in racing, Tony Stewart, last week in Texas.

In posting another solid finish, Johnson now stands 17 points ahead of Matt Kenseth and 78 points ahead of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Denny Hamlin, the only other driver with a realistic shot at catching Johnson, sits in fourth position, 80 points out of the lead.

The two remaining races of the chase and of the season are Phoenix and Miami. Johnson has never won at either of the remaining tracks, but he has been very solid at both, with an eighth place average finish at Phoenix and a 15th career average at Miami.

Johnson must have some bad luck and bad finishes, while one of the other three contenders must win one of the two remaining races, for the title to slip away from the Lowe’s team. Even though, he sits 78 points out, Dale Jr. will have as good of a chance as Kenseth to overtake Johnson.

Junior has two career wins at Phoenix and his intermediate program this year as been as solid as anyone’s.  That being said, it is a must that Junior win Sunday at Phoenix.

The fallout from sub-par seasons from some of the bigger named drivers has begun. Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards finished second and third in the final standings last year. This year, neither made the chase and, next year, both will be working with new crew chiefs.

It was announced this week that Bob Osborne will move back to head up Edwards’ no. 99 team. Osborne was Edwards’ crew chief last year and the beginning of this season, but Jack Roush moved Osborne to Jamie McMurray’s team earlier this season.

Mark Martin’s current crew chief, Pat Tryson, will move over to the number. 16 team to work with Biffle. Of course, Martin is leaving the Cat in the Hat after the season to drive for MB2 and a replacement for the no. 6 and new driver David Ragan has not been announced. The status of Biffle’s highly visible current crew chief, Doug Richert, has not been announced, either.

After having all five of his teams in the Chase in 2006, Roush dropped to having only two, Kenseth and Martin, qualify to compete for the championship in 2006. You had to know that Jack wouldn’t sit still and do nothing. There could be more coming.

Only Jeff Burton and Dale Jr. have won multiple races at Phoenix and Kevin Harvick won the spring race. Three other Chase competitors have a Phoenix victory to their credit—Kenseth, Martin, and Kyle Busch.

However, Tony Stewart also has won here in the past and has won the last two races. Do you think Smoke is making a statement? Don’t misunderstand; even though Stewart is not in the chase, I think he is the best racer on the planet, in any form of motorsports.

Stewart will be threat to win again Sunday, as will Junior and Harvick. Johnson can be passive aggressive for the next two races and walk away with a long sought championship. However, my pick to win Sunday to set up a very interesting season finale next week at Miami is Jeff Burton.