FONTANA, Calif. — While Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are 1-2 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings and building strong cases for starting the chase for the championship as the favorites, there is a shadow looming behind them.

Jimmie Johnson is never far from their minds.

"I've always been worried about Jimmie Johnson," Busch said. "I take him as being probably the best driver on the circuit. You never know what he can come up with during a race or what him and (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) can come up with in their cars to make it fast."

Edward echoed his chief rival, saying, "We talked about it this week, my trainer and I. We were kind of going over the guys that were really going to be tough and it goes without saying, Jimmie Johnson has proven that he can do it when it matters. I think that's one of the guys you're going to have to beat. You're going to have to beat Jimmie to be the champion."

While Busch has been the hottest driver this season, leading the points and winning eight races, and Edwards has been close behind with six wins, Johnson has had a so-so season — for him.

The Hendrick Motorsports star is a distant fourth in the points and has just two wins and 12 top-10 finishes heading into Sunday's Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway.

But nobody is selling Johnson short with two races left until the start of the 12-man, 10-race Chase — least of all Johnson himself.

Despite struggling with the big, bulky and still-new Car of Tomorrow at times this season — particularly on the 1 1/2- and 2-mile ovals — Johnson said the No. 48 team is figuring things, perhaps just at the right time.

DIXON, CASTRONEVES ON THE FRONT ROW: At Detroit, the battle for the IndyCar championship is won on the course, but Helio Castroneves is trying to influence the outcome off the track. Castroneves, who enters Sunday's Detroit Indy Grand Prix on Belle Isle 43 points behind driver points-leader Scott Dixon, has refined his strategy to include mind games with the New Zealander.