The 2013 Sprint Cup championship hasn't been officially decided, but for all intents and purposes Jimmie Johnson secured his sixth series title Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
Johnson entered Phoenix with a narrow seven-point lead over Matt Kenseth. That margin, however, was increased significantly as Johnson finished third in the AdvoCare 500 while Kenseth placed 23rd. Consequently Johnson now holds a 28-point advantage over Kenseth entering the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Regardless of how Kenseth finishes at Homestead, all Johnson must do to clinch is finish 23rd or better without leading a lap; 24th if he collects a bonus point for leading a single lap; or 25th if he leads the most laps.
"We're heading into Homestead in the position we want to be in," Johnson said. "I'll have to go down there and run 400 miles. It's far from over. You've got to finish that race. Although we have a nice cushion, we still have to go down there and take care of business."
Homestead is now a 400-mile coronation ceremony for Johnson because of the woeful day turned in by Kenseth, who struggled with an ill-handling car. From the drop of the green flag, the No. 20 Toyota was never competitive. Despite numerous adjustments by crew chief Jason Ratcliff, Kenseth could never get his car to turn to his liking.
Phoenix represented the first time in nine Chase races that Kenseth failed to lead a lap, and was his worst finish since August at Watkins Glen.
"Of course I'm disappointed," Kenseth said. "We basically go there without a shot to win. So, I'm obviously disappointed. On the other hand, I couldn't be happier and more proud of my team... this has been the best year of my racing career, really. It's been an awesome season.
"There's 10 races and they all pay the same amount of points. So, we just do the best we can every week. Some days are going to be great days fortunately for us, and others aren't going to be as great."
Sunday's winner Kevin Harvick maintained third in the standings, and enters Homestead with a mathematical shot to unseat Johnson, 34 points behind.
But as Harvick acknowledged after his fourth win of the season, it would take something miraculous for him to win the championship. "We're talking about locking him in the Port‑a‑Potty, so that should sum it up," he quipped.
Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. continue to reside in the fourth and fifth positions, respectively.
Sprint Cup standings (35 of 36 races)
|5||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2321||-63||0|
|16||Martin Truex Jr.||958||-1426||1|
|18||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||887||-1497||0|