Doing The Math

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AVONDALE. Ariz. - Only twice in NASCAR history has the driver leading the points into the season finale not won the championship.

Odds are pretty good that number will remain at two this year.

Jimmie Johnson's 63 point advantage heading into Sunday's Ford 400 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway isn't a complete lock, but it's about as close as they come.

Johnson needs only a 12th place finish or better to clinch his elusive first career championship.

But there are potentially four other drivers who could win the title, despite the deck being stacked against them.

"You know, there's really not a lot of pressure to tell you the truth," said Sunday's Phoenix race winner Kevin Harvick, who moved into a third place tie with Denny Hamlin, 90 points out of the lead. "It's just go out and go as fast as you can and everybody knows that everybody's could go everything they can do. How it falls is how it falls and that's just kind of how we've looked at it since the season started."

Fifth place point man Dale Earnhardt, Jr. scored a top-10 finish Sunday, but still lost ground in the championship race.

"We would have been lucky to have a top-25 finish if we would have run like we did at the start of the race, but my guys really worked hard and did a good job of improving the car throughout the race," Earnhardt Jr. said.

"We're a lot further behind in the points than what we wanted to be leaving this place, but we'll get back home and get ready to try to win Homestead."

But Harvick knows the spotlight is squarely on Johnson - as is the pressure.

"It's a lot of pressure, there's a lot on the line," Harvick said. "It seems like everything you've done all year comes down to one race. It will probably be a long week, he probably won't sleep much. He should avoid the Internet, avoid the newspaper, avoid the radio and all interviews."

Johnson appreciated the advice, but...

"I'll go to the golf course tomorrow and have some fun and relax, and stay busy Tuesday and Wednesday and just try to let the week hurry by," he said.

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