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Only one thing stands between Jimmie Johnson and his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, but it’s a big one – 267 laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And while that may not seem like a lot to some, considering there already have been 124,751 laps run this season, one only needs to look at what happened last year to Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s crew to know that fortunes can turn in just one lap.
Johnson enters the season’s final race as the points leader, 28 up on second-place Matt Kenseth. Kevin Harvick is also in contention, 34 out. While it is an enviable position to be in for Johnson, the five-time champ has had his share of hard luck at the 1.5-mile track south of Miami. It is one of five tracks on which he has never won. Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, and Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International being the others.
Championships certainly have been lost at Homestead. In 2004, things seemed to roll Kurt Busch’s way when he lost a tire but managed to salvage his day, beating Johnson by eight points for the title. Last year provided more proof that destiny may be determined in a lap when a loose lugnut sent Johnson down pit road after he seemingly had the race in hand. He eventually retired from the event due to a rear-end issue, not only losing the championship but slipping all the way to third in points.
But all of that is ancient history and with one race left to go this time by, Johnson hopes to add to NASCAR history with the prospects of another title. But, first, there’s the business of those pesky 267 laps.
This is what Johnson had to say heading into Homestead:
Your last two finishes at Homestead were 32nd and 36th. Knowing you need a 23rd or better, how do you approach Homestead this weekend?
“Well, we’re going to go down there and race as hard as we can. I think the safest place on the racetrack is up front and, if I look back to our Texas performance, we found a way to race smart, stay out of trouble and still get the race won. I would love to win the race and win the championship, but we’ll just have to see how things develop in the race and where we are relative to the 20 (Matt Kenseth). The big prize at the end of the day is what we’re focused on, it’s not so much that individual win, but we need to go down there and be prepared and treat Friday and Saturday like we need to win the race so we can make the car as comfortable and as fast as possible to give us all our options on Sunday.”
Matt Kenseth is 28 points behind you, but Kevin Harvick is just another six points behind Kenseth. Does that concern you?
“Yeah, he’s done a good job winning some races. I guess he’s in third right now. If we have a hiccup or some type of mistake in Homestead, it’ll be a race between the 20 (Kenseth) and the 29 (Harvick). But I feel like if we go down there and run as we should, we should be able to take care of business.”
Homestead-Miami Speedway Stats: