History favors Johnson in finaleHeadline goes here goes here; Only two points leaders have lost championship in last race since 1975

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Author: Don Coble
Date: Nov. 16, 2006
Publisher: The Florida Times-Union
Document Type: Article
Length: 647 words
Lexile Measure: 1360L

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Byline: DON COBLE

HOMESTEAD -- History always had a way of working against Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the Championship. Now he hopes it works for him.

Johnson heads into Sunday's Ford 400, the Nextel Cup Series' season finale, with a 63-point lead. While it's not impossible for Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick or Denny Hamlin -- or Dale Earnhardt Jr. for that matter -- to catch Johnson, history proves it's not likely.

Only two drivers leading the points have lost the title in the final race since NASCAR modernized its points system in 1975. Darrell Waltrip lost a two-point lead in the season finale in 1979 to Richard Petty, and Davey Allison lost a 30-point lead to Alan Kulwicki in 1992.

Johnson has been the best driver during the last three regular seasons, leading 47 out of 72 weeks. But he never has been able to transfer that success into the playoffs.

"Experience is invaluable. I mean, I can't express enough how much experience in this sport has helped me as a driver," Johnson said. "[This is] my fifth year, fifth time being in a championship situation. We've been under pressure, and we've been in this situation, and we are a better, stronger, more mature race team for it.

"I think the last few months, we've been able to show that, and we've been doing a great job."

Johnson has five consecutive top-two finishes in the Chase. He needs to finish 12th or better to clinch his first Nextel Cup championship.

By his own admission, Kenseth doesn't figure to put up much of a fight at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Harvick and Hamlin are both 90 points back, meaning Johnson only needs to finish no worse than 32nd to eliminate them.

Earnhardt is 115 points back. For him to win, Johnson would have to finish worse than 40th, and Harvick and Hamlin worse than 33rd.

"Only if he blows up, and then we're running so bad right now that I don't feel like we can beat anybody," Kenseth said of his chances. "He's going to have to have problems, and we're going to have to have a lot of good luck to get in there. We can't do it on performance. We can't run 25th on performance right now.

"None of our stuff is running, and I don't know why. I don't know what we're doing wrong, but we're doing something wrong. I'm not too optimistic about it. Obviously, anything can happen. We're still within striking distance if they have a mechanical problem or some type of problem like that, but, certainly, I don't think we can beat them on performance."

Johnson said he knows nothing is certain, especially at Homestead. He blew a tire and crashed there last year, finishing 40th.

"I seriously don't have any clue what to expect," Johnson said. "I don't have any strategy other than go down and finish ahead of the 17 [Kenseth], 8 [Earnhardt] and 11 [Hamlin]. It's just simple. That's all we've done so far through these last few months, and just go down there and do the same thing we've been doing."

In 2004, Johnson entered the season finale 20 points behind Kurt Busch. He finished second, but Busch came in fifth to win the title by 10 points.

"You know, at the time, it was really hard to swallow, and I'm not sure if time helps things go by," Johnson said. "At the same time, my personality, I think I tried to learn from what went on. I look at that year, and I don't feel like we left anything on the table.

"I don't have any negative feelings from any of the years that we've been close but didn't deliver."

FORD 400

When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Track dimensions: 1.5-mile oval with variable 18-20-degree banking in the corners.

TV: NBC.

Last year's winner: Greg Biffle.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A155516942