By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — An entire season’s work rests on one 400-mile race for the four drivers and teams left in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. NASCAR’s new Chase format — unveiled in 2014 — essentially makes the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway a dog-eat-dog winner-take-all race for the championship. Talk about pressure.
For Jimmie Johnson, there is added pressure. If the California-native can rise above his competition in Sunday’s race, he will be tied with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with most Sprint Cup Series championships in history with seven. You know, no big deal.
Johnson, who recorded two victories early in the 2016 campaign, suffered with a miserable summer stretch. Johnson’s team owner Rick Hendrick revealed on Friday that the summer lull for the No. 48 team almost resulted in a crew chief change. However, Johnson and Chad Knaus stayed focused and finally found some gains on the rest of the garage area. In the process Johnson turned his year around once the Chase started.
But even with the performance of the No. 48 Chevrolet SS hitting it’s peak for the 2016 season at the correct time, you would expect Johnson to have some kind of nerves heading into the penultimate race, right?
Judging by Johnson’s comments after final practice, you would be hard pressed to detect even the slightest bit of stress from the six-time Sprint Cup Series champion.
When asked of his plans on the eve of the most important event of the 2016 season, Johnson calmly answered, “Probably just go for a run and chill out after that. Eat and watch the Xfinity race and try to fall asleep early.”
The 79-time Sprint Cup Series race winner who regularly competes in marathons was then asked how long of a run he plans on for Saturday evening, and his answer was as legendary as his racing resume.
“It’s got to be seven,” Johnson quipped. “I’ve just got something with that number.”
Johnson is so calm that we really should hook him up to an E.K.G. machine just to make sure he still has a pulse. Johnson also has a fast machine under him this weekend, as he led Saturday’s opening practice session, and he is laser-focused on hoisting the Sprint Cup for a seventh time. Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are going to have to pull out all of the stops if they want to win this championship.