Jimmie Johnson a marked man in Chase

Alfred, Lord Tennyson might assess Jimmie Johnson's predicament at the outset of this Chase this way: cannon to the right of him, cannon to the left of him, cannon in front of him.

There's Kevin Harvick, living up mightily to team owner Richard Childress's projection, back in January, that "This is the year to kick Jimmie off that throne. We were close with Kevin last year, but this is the year to do it ... "

There's Kyle Busch, having grown up and settled down after several seasons of maturing in fits and starts, seeded first alongside Harvick. They have four wins each.

Most of all there is Johnson's teammate and mentor, seeded third, running well, feeling "rejuvenated" -- uh-oh, Jeff Gordon won four championships when he was young, under the old season-long points system, and he enters this Chase looking stronger, and certainly more enthusiastic, than he ever has for the playoffs.

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