Even after his third-place finish in Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, Johnson was hesitant to celebrate his good fortune. He needs only to finish 23rd or better (depending what Matt Kenseth does) to win the crown.
"Everybody is so eager to predict the champion, but you've got to play the game," he said. "You've got to run the race and stuff happens.
"There are so many variables in one of our races, I think more variables than any pro sport out there. We have all 43 teams playing, driving, racing, all the mechanical components on the racecar, pit stops, other issues on other cars that can take you out. There are a lot of variables, so we don't take any of these weekends lightly. Even with a nice points lead, I'm not going to take any week any differently. There's still a lot of pressure to get the job done and it's no layup at all."
Those other cars nearly ruined Johnson’s day twice.
His race began inauspiciously. Johnson didn’t get a good start entering Turn 1 and drifted up the track. That allowed Joey Logano, who started third, to make a move on the inside. Logano moved up the track as they ran together in Turn 3. He bumped Johnson, whose car skated out of the groove. Kyle Busch slowed to avoid hitting Johnson’s car.
During a caution on Lap 51, crew chief Chad Knaus asked Johnson what happened at the start.
"It went straight in the corner," Johnson radioed Knaus about his Turn-1 entry. "I couldn’t get the car to turn."