Chase championship is Johnson's to lose

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick know they have no chance to out-race Jimmie Johnson in Sunday' season-ending finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

So their only hope is for Johnson to have a catastrophic problem to create the remote possibility of either winning the Chase for the Championship.

"Obviously we're not going to make up the deficit on performance," Kenseth said as the three remaining contenders for the Sprint Cup Series title arrived to the track Thursday in preparation of the Ford EcoBoost 400.

"I think Jimmie could run 28th through the grass or with three wheels on. He's going to have to have a mechanical problem or crash to make something happen."

Johnson leads Kenseth by 28 points and Harvick by 34. If he finishes no worse than 23rd in Sunday's race. With that kind of cushion, Kenseth and Harvick know their bleak championship hopes rest more with Johnson.

"We approach it like we did last week - we have to go out and score maximum points," Harvick said. "Hopefully we can have a good weekend and control the things we can control."

Unlike previous Chase finales, Thursday's opportunity for reporters to talk with all three drivers - the only time they will be available until after Sunday's race - was void of playful intimidation. Kenseth and Harvick were respectful of Johnson's position and refused to lull him into any distractions.

"I think for us, we've had so many strange things happen throughout my career at the last minute, you have to play everything out," Harvick said. "Just the type of team we are - we race up until the last lap. You just never know what's going to happen.

"Realistically, the only things we can control is what we do. It's definitely a really, really long shot. But we'll see how it falls."

A year ago Johnson tried to scare Brad Keselowski into a mistake. But Keselowski not only held onto his 20-point lead, he extended it when Johnson fell out of the race with a broken rear-end gear."

A year earlier, Tony Stewart vowed to win the race and emotionally bully Carl Edwards. He did that and wound up beating Edwards in a tiebreaker.

Edwards hasn't been competitive since.

And in 2010, Johnson, Harvick and Denny Hamlin were in a close three-way battle. Harvick said he would consider wrecking the other two to win the championship. Johnson fought back by reminding the other two he had the experience as the defending four-time series champion.

Johnson won the battle of mind games - and the championship - with a second-place finish.

"If Jimmie does have a problem, he's so far ahead the problem needs to be fairly severe," Kenseth said. "If it is, you need to be pretty far toward the front because hypothetically he could have a problem, and if Kevin and I are running around 12th and 13th, Jimmie could still win."

Johnson didn't give Kenseth or Harvick an emotional opening on Thursday.

"This is the situation we all want to be in," he said. "It's easy to be more relaxed. But on Friday, I'm sure that will change the environment a little bit."

The Sprint Cup Series will practice at 1:30 p.m. Friday, and qualify at 6:10.


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