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HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The qualifying order has been set. The final practice times have been posted.
Now it's time for Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards to get it on, and decide once and for all the champion of the 2008 Chase for the Sprint Cup. With a 141-point advantage over Edwards heading into the final race of the season, the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, all Johnson needs to do even if Edwards is good enough to win the race is finish 36th or better. That becomes 37th or better if Johnson leads at least one lap, and 39th or better if he leads the most laps.
"We've got to finish 400 miles. I'm looking forward to it," Johnson said.
An easy Johnson clinching looked more likely than ever after the final practice session Saturday, with Johnson posting the fourth-fastest lap time of 33.060 seconds around the 1.5-mile track under a cloudless sky in steamy Florida. That translated to a top lap speed of 163.339 mph.
Johnson's fast practice times Saturday made him feel more comfortable about the fact that he qualified poorly on Friday, when he placed himself 30th on the starting grid -- on the outside of Row 15, next to Ryan Newman. Edwards was much better in qualifying, putting himself on the outside of Row 2 next to Matt Kenseth in the fourth position.
Edwards was not nearly as fast as Johnson during the final practice session, ranking 23rd on the speed chart with a fastest lap time of 33.310 seconds that translated to 162.113 mph.
"We just have to go out and be aggressive and do what we've been doing," Edwards said. "If Jimmie potentially were to have some sort of trouble, we just have to be there to take advantage of it."
The top three on the speed chart at the end of Saturday's final practice were Denny Hamlin (164.429 mph), Greg Biffle (163.607) and the surprising rookie Scott Speed (163.478), who backed up his strong qualifying run.
Speed qualified second behind David Reutimann, who won the first Cup pole of his career on Friday but struggled during Happy Hour roughly 24 hours later. Reutimann's top speed of 161.394 mph Saturday was just 30th-fastest.
Edwards insisted that he is not concerned about the sub-par speeds he posted Saturday."So much can change," he
said. "[Crew chief] Bob Osborne has this ability to make the car a lot better after Saturday's practice sometimes -- for Sunday anyway. So we really probably won't know how good we are until about halfway through the race when the conditions change a little bit. At that point, we'll kind of know what we've got for the long haul."
Truth is, the long haul that is the 36-week Sprint Cup season, including the 10-race Chase, is just about over. And it will take serious and unexpected trouble for the No. 48 Chevrolet team of Johnson for Edwards to even have the slimmest of chances of grabbing the championship.
Johnson knows he is sitting on the precipice of history, as he is ever so close to becoming only the second driver to win three consecutive Cup championships -- Cale Yarborough did it 30 years ago. But he said he is tired of talking about all that and just wants to go racin'.
"It's been a busy week and I'm just really eager to get in the car and get into what I do and what this team is about and what we like to do, which is drive that car and make it fast," Johnson said.
[story courtesy of Joe Menzer at NASCAR.com]
[photo courtesy of gettyimages.com]
Great seats are still available for Ford Championship Weekend, Nov. 14-16, on Homestead-Miami Speedway's 1.5-mile oval. The NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series all will crown champions under the lights. To secure individual or group tickets for NASCAR's finale, call (866) 409-RACE or click here.