Catch me if you can

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After winning three of the first five races, it appears that Jimmie Johnson is uncatchable in this year's "Chase for the Sprint Cup" championship.

Johnson captured the pole, led the way in practices and won the 500-mile at Lowe's Motor Speedway in what his crew chief Chad Knaus described as a "perfect weekend." While Johnson claimed his track-record tying sixth victory at Lowe's, his closest competitors in the Chase faltered, with Mark Martin finishing 17th and Juan Pablo Montoya coming in a season-worst 35th.

Midway through the playoffs, Johnson holds a 90-point lead over Martin and a 135-point advantage over Jeff Gordon, who finished fourth at Lowe's. Gordon has jumped from 10th to third in the title rankings since last month at New Hampshire. The mighty Hendrick Motorsports now claims the top-three spots in points. Montoya, meanwhile, has dropped to sixth in the Chase (-195).

Jimmie Johnson holds a 90-point lead over Mark Martin midway through the playoffs.
"We're only halfway through this thing, and so much can happen," Johnson said.

That's probably not going to occur, especially with Martinsville the next stop on the Chase schedule. While Lowe's has been referred to as "Jimmie's House" over the years, Martinsville lately has become his second home. Johnson has won five of the last six races at the half-mile Virginia track.

Talladega looms on the schedule later this month, and if Johnson can leave there unscathed in points, it should be clear sailing for him in the remainder of the Chase.

"I feel very good about racing for the championship," he said. "If we don't have any problems, I feel that we've got a very good chance to win the championship, racing for it."

In the six-year history of the Chase, no driver has overcome a 90-point or higher deficit with five races remaining in the season, expect Johnson in 2006 when he trailed leader Jeff Burton by 146 points after Lowe's. Johnson went on to finish first or second in the next four races before an eighth-place run at Homestead allowed him to clinch his first Cup title. He ended the year with a 56-point margin over runner-up Matt Kenseth.

As the only driver to make NASCAR's playoffs every year, Johnson has accumulated 17 Chase wins to this point, which is by far more than any other competitor.

"I'm just doing my thing," he said. "I think there's a lot of fans out there that are excited to see what this 48 car is doing, and a lot of people are happy and rooting for us to win a fourth. The rest of them, oh well."

If Johnson continues on his triumphal pace in this year's Chase, he likely will capture his unprecedented fourth straight championship before the season wraps up November 22 at Homestead.

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