Jimmie Johnson is just a mid-pack finish away from reclaiming his status as the king of NASCAR's mountain.
Going into today's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, "Five-Time" is poised to earn his sixth Sprint Cup championship, drawing him even closer to the ultimate stock car royalty: The seven championships owned by Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt.
Johnson has dueled with Matt Kenseth throughout the Chase for the Championship but took control last week at Phoenix, with a third-place finish, paired with Kenseth's rare off day (finishing 23rd). Johnson leads by 28 points and only needs to finish 23rd today, even if pole-sitter Kenseth wins and leads the most laps.
And at 37, Johnson's pursuit of spots in the record book isn't slowing. Are Petty and Earnhardt destined to be in Johnson's mirrors in terms of titles?
Petty thinks so.
"Right now it's seven and seven," Petty said to espn.com last week of himself and Earnhardt. "It'll be seven, seven, seven, and he's liable to go eight to 10."
So where does "JJ" stand in terms of history — and, oh yeah, can anyone stop it?
The other contenders
Should he pull even with Johnson in points today, Kenseth has the tiebreaker edge with seven victories this season (Johnson has six).
That might be the only bit of good news in Kenseth's bid for a second Cup championship.
How likely is it that Johnson will finish 23rd or worse, opening the door for Kenseth? Consider: Johnson has a 4.66 average finish through the first nine Chase races.
"I think Jimmie could run (23rd) through the grass or with three wheels," Kenseth said last week. "He's going to have to have a mechanical problem or crash to make something happen."
Kevin Harvick, who trails Johnson by 34 points and is the only driver still mathematically in it, needs even more help. Still, he tried to keep up a brave front going into the weekend.
"You just have to go and control the things you can control because anything can happen at any particular point," Harvick said.
"That's one thing that (team owner Richard Childress) has always stressed from the beginning — don't ever quit or give up until it's actually over. Never concede early because you just never know."
Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut knows a bit about wrapping up championships. The organization has won 10, tying the all-time series mark held by Petty Enterprises. The team's 218 Cup victories trails only Petty Enterprises (268).
Johnson is also the only driver in history to start his career winning at least two races in each of his first 12 full-time seasons (Bobby Allison did it in his first 10 full-time seasons).
And Hendrick is the type of team to learn from last season, when Johnson led Brad Keselowski by seven points going into the penultimate race only to suffer a tire failure at Phoenix. That gave Keselowski a slight lead going into the finale, where Johnson's mechanical failure handed Keselowski his first championship.
"Last year was a good lesson for me, and I think I'm carrying some of that experience now in dealing with this," Johnson said. "We felt like things were going our way, we have the points lead, we go to Phoenix, the wheels fall off, literally."
Times staff writer Jim Tomlin contributed to this report, which used information from Times wires.