AVONDALE, Ariz. - It's simple, Jimmie Johnson insists.
"I just go out and do my job," Johnson said Sunday after winning the Checker Auto Parts 500 and putting a stranglehold on the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
"I've just been trying not to get caught up in things," Johnson added after his fourth-straight victory. "I am just trying to get in the race car and go."
Well, he certainly has that part figured out.
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Johnson got his car to go past Martin Truex Jr. to take the lead on Lap 289 and lead the final 24 laps at this 1-mile track.
There's irony in that number, of course, since 24 is the car number of the man who Johnson all but put away in the race for this year's championship with his latest win.
Before Johnson went on his rampage, Jeff Gordon was 68 points ahead of Johnson after a win at Charlotte. Gordon hasn't finished outside the top 10 since, but he's now 86 points behind Johnson with only next week's season-finale at Homestead left.
"Those guys have just flat-out killed everybody," Gordon said of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
Technically, that's only true of everyone in the Chase aside from Gordon. Gordon can still win his fifth career title, but even if he wins and leads the most laps at Homestead Johnson can earn the title with a finish of 18th or better - 19th or better if Johnson leads at least one lap.
"The lead we have is a nice position to be in," said Johnson, who led by 63 points after this race a year ago before finishing ninth at Homestead to wrap up his first Cup championship. "It takes some of the pressure off. But we have to go down there and run 400 miles. If we don't do that, we could be in trouble."
In nine races Johnson has already scored more points, 1,512, than any of the first three Chase-format champions scored in 10 races on their way to their titles.
Before this year's Chase began, crew chief Chad Knaus said he told his team that an average finish of ninth per race would be enough to win the title. "I was way off base with that," Knaus said.
Johnson heard that, but in his mind he had set his sights a lot higher. "We need every point," Johnson said.
"If we let our guard down and don't score maximum points, we are going to get beat."
To be sure, it's hard to get beat when you do score all the points you can. Johnson has all but done that in the past four races, leaving only 20 potential points on the table because he hasn't led the most laps in any of the races he's won.
He led 55 Sunday, first in a 31-lap stretch beginning at Lap 188 during a portion of the race when the contending cars were on various pit sequences that could have, depending on how caution flags fell, led to major swings one way or another in how this race turned out.
Eventually, though, it came down to two pit stops. Johnson came off the pit lane with four tires and in sixth place for a restart on Lap 240, and then was fifth with two tires when the green flew on Lap 275.
But Johnson passed Matt Kenseth for second on Lap 283 and then put Truex in his mirror on Lap 289. Greg Biffle moved up to pass Kenseth for second, with Tony Stewart finishing fourth and Ryan Newman fifth.
With only Johnson and Gordon still mathematically eligible for the title, car owner Rick Hendrick is assured of his seventh championship. Now, it's just a matter of one more week of getting the job done for Johnson to become the first to win two straight titles since Jeff Gordon in 1997 and 1998.
"We are just peaking at the right time with everything we've got," Knaus said.
After delivering what amounted to a concession speech after his 29th top-10 finish this year - more than he had in any season is his own brilliant career - Gordon came to victory lane to offer congratulations. It was probably not the most enjoyable thing he's done recently.
"I can imagine the frustration," Johnson said. "We've just been on a roll here. We're glad it's us. We've just been doing our thing."
And devastatingly effective.