Jimmie Johnson is on a roll again, and whether he's willing to admit it or not, while everyone else in NASCAR is chasing him, he's chasing history.
Johnson led 339 laps Sunday as he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates again dominated at Martinsville Speedway, and the two-time defending Sprint Cup champion padded his lead in his bid for a record-tying third championship in a row with four races remaining.
Only Cale Yarborough, from 1976-78, has won three straight championships in stock car racing's premier series, and Johnson is looking more and more as if he'll be the second.
"I'm going to have to answer those questions one of these days, aren't I?" Johnson said of the ones about Yarborough and taking a place beside him in history.
Johnson's victory in the Tums QuickPak 500 was his sixth of the year and extended his points lead from 69 to 149.
"There's a lot of great teams that were huge in the sport," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said, lumping Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus in with his father and Richard Petty, both seven-time champions, and Hall of Famers David Pearson, Yarborough and Junior Johnson.
"To pack it in three years and just dominate like that, there's only a half a dozen teams that have ever done anything like that, been that strong consistently," Earnhardt said.
A year ago, this race started a four-race winning streak for Johnson, a run that he said left him leaving Phoenix thinking, "I cannot believe I'm experiencing this." Now, to experience it again, he's not planning on letting up.
"As long as I can stay scared and on my heels and worried about losing this thing, the better this team's going to be. If we start getting comfortable and complacent, we're going to stub our toes, make mistakes," he said.
But no foe is conceding yet.
"We're going to come and get them," said Greg Biffle, who climbed to second in points. "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'm still confident we can catch him, for sure."
So are Jeff Burton, 152 points back, and Carl Edwards, fourth and 198 behind.
"He could have any sort of trouble the next two races and be right back there with us," Edwards said, lumping himself with Biffle and Burton.
Earnhardt finished second, followed by Edwards and Jeff Gordon, giving Hendrick three of the top four spots. Denny Hamlin was fifth and Casey Mears, the fourth Hendrick driver, was sixth.
Official dies:Steve Lawson, a safety inspector in Sprint Cup, was found dead in his hotel room Sunday morning, NASCAR officials said. He was 51. The cause of death was not announced. Lawson of Rockford, Ill., was scheduled to work Sunday's race. He is the third NASCAR official to die this year. Inspector Brienne Davis, 28, was killed in a car accident in April. Longtime technical director Steve Peterson died in his home in July at 58.
PALIN'S PARTY: The husband of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is known for winning the world's longest snowmobile race four times. This time he got a taste of speed on asphalt instead of ice. Todd Palin toured the garage area at Martinsville, met several drivers and was introduced to fans before the race. "It's just a thrill for us to be down here and I'll leave my telephone number with any NASCAR racer if they want to come up and go run with us," he said during a brief session with the media.
Winner's average speed: 75.931 mph
Time of race: 3 hours, 29 minutes, 29 seconds
Margin of victory: 0.708 seconds
Caution flags: 12 for 76 laps
Lead changes: 14 among 7 drivers
Lap leaders: Johnson 1-35; J.Gordon 36-55; Johnson 56-63; Almirola 64-116; McMurray 117-153; Johnson 154-164; Biffle 165-173; Johnson 174-241; J.Gordon 242-259; Riggs 260; Johnson 261-271; J.Gordon 272-290; Johnson 291-461; Kenseth 462-469; Johnson 470-504.
With four races to go. Only these drivers are eligible in the Chase for the Championship.
Driver Pts. Back
J. Johnson 6,073 -
Greg Biffle 5,924 149
Jeff Burton 5,921 152
C. Edwards 5,875 198
Clint Bowyer 5,831 242
Kevin Harvick 5,817 256
Jeff Gordon 5,798 275
Tony Stewart 5,735 338
D. Earnhardt Jr. 5,694 379
Matt Kenseth 5,665 408
Denny Hamlin 5,653 420
Kyle Busch 5,628 445
Note: Points unofficial; NASCAR posts official standings today