HAMPTON, Ga. | Credit Greg Biffle and Jeff Burton for their confidence.
Although Jimmie Johnson is turning the Sprint Cup title chase into a rout, neither driver is conceding anything to the two-time defending champion.
“I promise you it’s not over,” Biffle boasted.
But it sure seems that way as Johnson steadily pulls away from the competition. He heads into Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway up 149 points over Biffle, while Burton is 152 points out with just four races left in the season.
A driver can make up 161 points in a single event, assuming he leads the most laps en route to victory and Johnson finishes last. But that’s fairly unlikely to happen to Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports crew: The No. 48 team has won 13 of the 46 Chase races since the format was introduced in 2004.
Barring a complete collapse - and Johnson and his crew are far too prepared for that to happen - he will have this title wrapped up well before the Nov. 16 season finale at Homestead. History is on his side, too: No driver has come back from a deficit greater than 144 with four races to go.
But the competition is refusing to concede despite knowing it will take a perfect month of performance - and some bad luck for Johnson - to make this a race.
“We’re going to have to have four flawless races,” Biffle said. “If you do the math, 149 points divided by four, that’s obviously what we need to pick up per race - it’s got to be those positions or more. But we know if he slips that we have to capitalize, and if he has a problem, we have got to finish well in that event.
“It’s certainly possible. We’re just going to do the best we can and see where he ends up at the end of the day.”
Johnson isn’t claiming the Sprint Cup, either, and is keeping a close eye on the challengers. He’s most worried about Carl Edwards, a six-race winner during the “regular season” who slipped to fourth in the standings after mechanical problems in Round 5 of the Chase.
“If we have a 43rd-place finish, it would probably allow more than just Carl in, but for whatever reason, my eyes have kind of stopped there at Carl,” Johnson said. “I try to look at the worst-case scenario, and if we leave here with 43rd-place points, who has a shot and who is very good at the tracks that are coming up.
“That way I can look forward to what my team needs to do, what I need to do in the seat. Stay focused on positive things and things that put a smile on my face instead of worrying about a negative side to it.”
But Johnson is the one who is good at the remaining tracks on the schedule, including Atlanta, where he has three wins and nine top-10 finishes in 14 career races. He swept the races here last season and starts from the pole Sunday because rain washed out qualifying and the field was set by points.
“This track has been real good to us over the years,” Johnson said.
The exception was the race in March, when Johnson - and all of Hendrick Motorsports - struggled to find a groove with the current car. He finished 13th - his worst showing since 2005.
“We still managed to get a decent finish, but it was a struggle for us here,” he said.