This is it: 400 miles to a Sprint Cup championship

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Every time a NASCAR season begins in earnest with those “Preseason Thunder” test sessions at Daytona, the end of the line in November – the Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami – seems so far away.

But here we are again, ready to see the coronation of another Sprint Cup champion while simultaneously wondering how in the blue heck time went by so fast.

Today is the day. Only 400 miles separate either Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth or Kevin Harvick from the Cup, and while Johnson has the distinct advantage of being on top of the championship by 28 points going into today’s race, so much can happen as it plays out. Nothing’s impossible.

Improbable? Maybe. Unlikely? Perhaps. But never impossible.

For Johnson, today could be a day for more history, a day to further bolster his legacy as one of the all-time legends of the sport. He’s never won at Homestead, but when he’s hit the 1.5-mile oval with the championship lead, he’s always been able to take care of business. Four times he’s walked in as the leader, and four times he’s walked out as the champion.

One of these days, we’ll look back on his and Hendrick Motorsports’ run of dominance and be glad that we were there to see something that memorable.

Then there’s Kenseth, whose career has come back to life in a big way with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Win or lose today, he and the No. 20 bunch can be very proud of their accomplishments in 2013.

But should Johnson come undone somehow, he could be in position to deliver one of the most shocking upsets in NASCAR history and earn his second Cup title (and his first in the current Chase format that many believed he helped create after claiming his first title in 2003).

Finally, there’s Harvick, who today closes out a memorable run at Richard Childress Racing that saw him and the team go through several tough times. 13 years after taking up the incredible challenge of replacing the late Dale Earnhardt, Harvick has become part of NASCAR’s nucleus.

He and his No. 29 team have kept things light in regards to the championship, having mentioned that their only chance to beat Johnson is to lock him in a port-a-potty. But as long as they’re still in it, they’ll give it their best shot. It’s what they demand of themselves, every week.

What will we see today? Five-Time getting the Six-Pack? Kenseth claiming his inaugural “Chase era” crown? Or Harvick giving RCR a title on his way out the door? Regardless of the outcome, we’ll bear witness to something pretty special.

In the dead of winter, you never think about this day in November. And then, suddenly, as if only a few moments had passed instead of ten months, the day arrives.

And you just shake your head and smile.

Daniel Ricciardo would relish being Lewis Hamilton’s teammate

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Daniel Ricciardo says he would relish the challenge of having Lewis Hamilton as his teammate if he joins Mercedes next year.

Ricciardo is out of contract at Red Bull at the end of the season and expressed interest in joining teams like Mercedes or Ferrari to help him challenge for the championship.

The Australian says he would “love to obviously be challenged against the best and Lewis is obviously up there.”

He adds: “I don’t want to say it’s just Lewis I’m looking for but that would be a good challenge.”

Ricciardo says he won’t accept a faster car if it means playing second fiddle to an established star.

He says “there’s always been really good clarity and fairness (at Red Bull) … and I would expect that environment everywhere.”