Allen Lessels on Motor Sports: It'll be a Sprint to the finish
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson during practice for the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
"I wouldn't be putting anybody's name on the trophy yet," Stewart said. "It's way, way, way too early for that."
He's right, of course.
The 2103 Sprint Cup race just looks a little like it's over with Jimmie Johnson putting a licking on the rest of the field and doing a decent job of dominating the first half of the season.
Johnson's car was the second fastest to pole sitter Brad Keselowski in qualifying on Friday afternoon, but his time was disallowed when the front end of the Lowe's Chevrolet measured too low during post-qualifying inspection.
But the car still has plenty of speed and chances are Johnson, as long as he can avoid trouble around him, will roar through the pack and be a factor before the day is done.
Johnson won his record fifth straight Cup championship in 2010 and has gone two years watching first Stewart and then Keselowski last year, win titles. He's itching to get back on top and win a sixth crown overall.
Johnson's lead - he's up 49 points on Clint Bowyer - is such that he could wake up this morning and decide to take Sunday afternoon off from work and spend it cruising Lake Winnipesaukee in a speedboat and still leave town with the points lead tonight.
There's much less time to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins and that creates the race within the race today.
There are, though, limited slots and lots of contenders.
Coming up with the consistency to reel off those top 10s is the problem.
Keselowski is in 13th, two points behind Kahne, and Jeff Gordon is just one point behind him. Joey Logano is in 15th, four points behind Gordon. Ryan Newman is one point behind Logano.
"I think there's a big difference between the two," Keselowski said. "If we do our part, we don't need any help. We don't even need any luck. ... We're eager to get going. We feel like we can do it, but I don't feel a sense of panic. There are still two months of racing to get in the Chase."
He had a string of six straight finishes of 11th or better snapped last week at Daytona after his right front tire blew. He crashed and ended up finishing 40th in the race.
"The big thing is, we can't let that kill the momentum of what we had going on," Logano said. "I don't feel like we're in panic mode now. No, we've got to make this Chase. ... We're not in panic mode yet."Stress the yet.