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Johnson could wrap up third-straight title

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After winning Sunday's Tums QuikPak 500 with a dominating performance at the Martinsville Speedway, Jimmie Johnson is well on his way to capturing his third consecutive Sprint Cup Series championship. And he might do it before the series ends its season November 16 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Johnson now holds a commanding 149-point lead over Greg Biffle, making it the most sizeable margin in the five-year history of the Chase with four races to go in the season.

Even though Johnson typically peaks at the end of the season, he remains cautiously optimistic at the prospect of tying Cale Yarborough's 30-year-old record for most consecutive titles in the series.

Jimmie Johnson holds a commanding 149-point lead over Greg Biffle.
"It's getting closer," Johnson said. "Still, as long as I can stay scared and on my heels and worried about losing this thing, the better this team is going to be. If we start getting comfortable and complacent, we are going to stub our toes and make mistakes."

Yarborough won the Cup championship from 1976-78.

Johnson has finished ninth or better, including two victories, in the first six Chase races. That momentum could continue as it did last year, when he won four of the final five races to claim his second-straight title.

"We feel very good about what we are doing and where we are at right now," he said. "But the hungrier we can stay, to go out and have performances like we did this weekend, that's what is going to make this thing right and that's how we would want to win a championship."

While Johnson is clearly in the driver's seat, Biffle, Jeff Burton, and Carl Edwards are not ready to concede just yet.

"We're gonna come and get them," Biffle said of Johnson and his crew. "We've got four more chances, and we're going to some of our best places, so they better be on their 'A' game. I know they have been so far, but we're gonna bring the heat to Atlanta and all the rest of the places and see what we can do."

Biffle won the first two races in the Chase, but took a hit in the points with a 24th-place finish at Talladega.

Burton won last week at the Lowe's Motor Speedway and moved to within 69 points of Johnson. However, Burton fell 152 markers behind after a pit-road mishap led to a 17th-place finish at Martinsville.

"I fully expected to come here and (Johnson) to run well," Burton said. "If it surprises anybody that the No.48 ran well at Martinsville, they are crazy. It doesn't surprise me one bit. This I think is their strongest race track of every place we run. They run better here than anyone, and they run well at a lot of places. I don't view this as being over."

Edwards was just 10 points behind Johnson after Kansas, but poor finishes at Talladega and Lowe's caused him to tumble in the standings. Now 198 points down, Edwards thinks there's still plenty of time to catch Johnson.

"He could have any sort of trouble at the next two races and be right back there with us," Edwards said. "This isn't over until the last lap at Homestead, that's for sure."

But that won't be the case if Johnson leaves Phoenix International Raceway, the second-to-last stop on the schedule, with a point lead higher than 195. If he tops that number, Johnson would clinch the championship there. Then, "Championship Weekend" at Homestead simply becomes a formality for NASCAR's premier series.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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