Johnson, Stewart Clinch Chase Spot

Jimmie Johnson has vowed not to back off in the final three races before the Chase for the Championship, despite he and points leader Tony Stewart having already become the first two drivers to guarantee themselves a place

Johnson, Stewart Clinch Chase Spot

NASCAR introduced the new way of determining the Nextel Cup Champion last year to guarantee a close fight to the finish at the end of a 36-race season. Points gaps are reset with ten races remaining, and only the top ten drivers will be eligible to compete for the title.

Provided they at least start the next three races, neither Stewart or Johnson can finish outside the top ten before the Chase begins at New Hampshire next month.

Stewart bagged his spot by finishing fifth after starting 35th at yesterday's GFS Marketplace 400, and Johnson also climbed through the field at Michigan to take his place, ending up 10th after starting 43rd.

"I think we're getting some momentum back and heading in the right direction," Johnson said, whose last victory dates back to May's Coca-Cola 600, 12 races ago.

"I think it's more important to have the right mindset for collecting points and racing for a championship right now, so when you get in the final ten race you hit your stride and you're doing what you need to do. I would expect all the other teams in the same mindset and everyone else will be very stingy with points and smart on the race track from here on out.

"We learned a lot of things at Michigan and I'm very happy with the race car. Indy was the start of some new things and new hope for us. Watkins Glen was good, but it's a road course and then, to run in the top five all day long at Michigan see the leaders, race with them and then understand where our cars are a little off means I'm very excited to go into the final 10 races.

"It's comforting to know to at least be in the top 10 in points. It's a testament to these guys to clinch it with three races to go. I'm excited for it and it just means we've had a great season. We shouldn't be ashamed of anything."

Jeremy Mayfield's win in yesterday's race means he is likely to join Johnson and Stewart in the Chase, along with Greg Biffle, and veterans Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. Reigning champion Kurt Busch should also be safe, being nearly 200 points inside the tenth place window.

However, the last three spots could go to any one of eight drivers. Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards currently round out the top ten, but Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon still has an outside chance of making it for the second year running, but will have to overcome Dale Jarrett in eleventh.

Nextel Cup Drivers Standings:
Pos Driver Points 1. Tony Stewart 3268 2. Jimmie Johnson 3142 ↑↑ clinched positions ↑↑ 3. Greg Biffle 3016 4. Rusty Wallace 2979 5. Mark Martin 2899 6. Jeremy Mayfield 2869 7. Kurt Busch 2848 8. Ryan Newman 2773 9. Carl Edwards 2758 10. Jamie McMurray 2702 ↑↑ Current contenders ↑↑ 11. Dale Jarrett 2651 12. Jeff Gordon 2644 13. Elliott Sadler 2636 14. Kevin Harvick 2620 15. Matt Kenseth 2598 16. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2544 17. Joe Nemechek 2533 18. Brian Vickers 2487 19. Kasey Kahne 2405 20. Michael Waltrip 2364 21. Jeff Burton 2359 22. Kyle Busch 2329 ↑↑ Still with possibility ↑↑ 
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