While it's hard to believe only one race remains, it's not surprising that Jimmie Johnson is again sitting in the catbird seat. In case you've been living under a rock, let's recap. With a finish of 25th or better Sunday, Johnson is set to clinch his fourth consecutive NASCAR Cup title, a feat never accomplished in the sport's history.
Yes, race fans, I know that there is one driver who stands in Johnson's way. Perennial bridesmaid and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin sits in second. Martin never gives up -- one of the reasons he's so popular with fans and competitors alike. Martin has also been around the series for a long time and is only the second NASCAR Cup driver past the age of 50 to win five times in a season. The other was Harry Gant, who did it in 1991.
If anyone can stage a comeback, it's Martin. NASCAR statistics reveal that on nine occasions, he has gained more than 108 points on Johnson. It happened most recently two weeks ago in Texas, when Martin's fourth-place finish coupled with Johnson's accident-troubled 38th, resulted in a net gain of 111 points. That's definitely a long shot, and Martin knows it. But regardless of how matters shake out, he remains humble.
"I'm pretty proud of what we've done this season," said Martin, who has finished second in the series championship a whopping four times.
History will be made at Homestead whether it's Martin or Johnson taking home the Cup. But there are other goals being chased in the final Chase race.
Homestead-Miami Speedway is the only active NASCAR Sprint Cup track at which Jeff Gordon has failed to win. But what is a bigger surprise is that none of his Hendrick teammates have won there either. The organization, which will wrap up its 25th anniversary season this weekend, has recorded eight top-five finishes and 16 top-10s in 10 Cup events (a total of 39 starts) there.
A number of streaks are in jeopardy this week -- none longer than Greg Biffle's run of six consecutive seasons with at least one victory. Also needing a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway to preserve a streak is Jeff Burton, who has victories in three consecutive seasons.
Also looking for the checkers this week are those drivers who are winless in 2009 after posting victories a year ago -- defending Ford 400 winner Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman.
Whether you're a Johnson fan, a Johnson hater, it's still great to have one more race this year. So tune in, because February -- and Daytona -- is a long way off.
Ellen Siska writes about NASCAR for the Dispatch. She can be reached at email@example.com.