Hamlin needs earplugs
Denny Hamlin has the car. He has the speed. He has the skills.
The only question is whether he has tone-deaf hearing.
That's what it's going to take to win a NASCAR Cup Championship on Sunday in Homestead. Hamlin is going to have to block out the pesky voice in his head. The voice belongs to Jimmie Johnson.
For days now, Johnson has been taking jabs at Hamlin, making sure he feels the pressure of trying to hang on to a 15-point lead. Johnson told me Thursday he is enjoying every minute of it, and why not?
He is the four-time defending champion. Hamlin is the young gun trying to unseat him.
The only way Hamlin loses Sunday is if he allows himself to get rattled by Johnson. There's no way of knowing how that will play out until Sunday.
Otherwise, Johnson might have something else to say Sunday afternoon:
Checkered past suits JJ
Los Angeles Times
Any sport with the vagaries of flat tires, broken parts and crashing cars renders predictions nearly pointless.
That said, Jimmie Johnson gets the nod for several reasons. His 15-point deficit to Hamlin is almost negligible. That Hamlin won at Homestead a year ago is irrelevant — and so is the fact Johnson never has won there. Johnson's Hendrick Chevrolet will be just as stout as Hamlin's Toyota. Having gone through this title experience several times, the last four with the Sprint Cup trophy ultimately in his hands, Johnson has the mental toughness and cool confidence to win no matter what happens in the race.
Finally, Johnson has another trump card in his hand: Chad Knaus, the smartest, most tenacious crew chief in the business.
Calm before swarm
When the corks on the champagne bottles start popping Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway following the Ford 400, it will be Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team getting drenched.
NASCAR got out of the Chase for the Cup this year what it has so desired — a race to the wire with Johnson and Denny Hamlin battling up front and dark horse Kevin Harvick in third.
Hamlin takes a 15-point lead over Johnson into the final race. Who blinks first?
Along the way to winning the last four Sprint Cup Series titles, Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, have proved to be masters at dealing with the pressure that comes with chasing a championship. They keep their eyes on the prize.
Hamlin sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. Too much emotion. Hamlin faces the biggest pressure event of his career — and pressure has never been Hamlin's friend on the track.
Johnson has coup chief
My head says Hamlin, but my gut says Johnson.
Hamlin has been the Chase's most consistent driver, playing the Mariano Rivera of NASCAR to at least a push. Johnson has been good but not as dominating as previous Chases.
Hamlin's team squandered his chance for a less-stressful run at Homestead with late-race pit strategy in Phoenix that shrank his lead. I think he'll run well, but he hasn't been in this position before.
Granted, Johnson hasn't been in this position lately, either. He has come to Homestead with comfortable leads in recent years.
Johnson's ace in the hole is crew chief/evil genius Chad Knaus. One race for all the marbles, who else would you want atop your pit box?