Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Homestead-Miami Ford 400 Storylines

After a grueling 35 races – not to mention a couple of special non-points events – this Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season finale promises to be the perfect ending to a fascinating, storyline-rich year.

Only 15 points separate the top two drivers – Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson – in the closest points battle in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s seven-year history. But don’t forget about Kevin Harvick, who’s only 46 points out.

The drama being what it is, this Sunday will be lap-by-lap must-watch.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series has its season finale as well – the Ford 300. Brad Keselowski locked up the driver’s championship a couple weeks ago, but the owner’s title is still TBD.

Todd Bodine clinched his second-career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title, and now looks to unify the driver’s and owner’s championships in the series-finale Ford 200. His No. 30 Germain Racing Toyota trails the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota by 120 points.


Who Will Be Crowned King?
The three candidates still eligible for the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title – Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick – have proven their championship mettle in 2010. After all, the three have combined to lead the points after 34 of the 35 races. A quick breakdown of the trio:

Denny Hamlin: The only driver who controls his own destiny, Hamlin would guarantee himself the title with a either a win or a runner-up finish while leading the most laps. That would clinch the title, regardless of what either Johnson or Harvick do.

It would be a fitting capper to a gutsy season. Hamlin had knee surgery earlier this season, just a couple days after winning at Martinsville Speedway. He has a series-high eight victories, which is guaranteed to be the most of any driver in 2010.

The defending champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Hamlin has three top fives and a Driver Rating of 94.7 in five starts at the South Florida track.

Jimmie Johnson: Of the three, Johnson is the one driver who knows the pressure of a championship finale. Looking for his fifth consecutive title, Johnson cannot clinch with a win alone. He’ll need some help. Also, history isn’t exactly behind him. Since the inception of the current point system in 1975, only two drivers have overcome a deficit in the season finale to win the championship: Richard Petty in 1979 and Alan Kulwicki in 1992.

Johnson, owner of six wins this season, led the points after five of the nine Chase races. He had gone into the season finale as the points leader in all four of his championship seasons.

At Homestead, Johnson has six top 10s in nine races.

Kevin Harvick: Harvick has more top 10s than any other driver (25), and has been the series’ most consistent driver all season long. He led the points after 20 of 26 races during the regular season.

No matter what happens Sunday, Harvick will have a career-best points finish. His previous best was fourth, in 2006 and 2008.

Harvick has plenty of reason for optimism. His statistics at Homestead outshine both Hamlin and Johnson: four top fives, seven top 10s, a Driver Rating of 101.1 and an average finish of 8.4.

Crew Chiefs Playing Vital Role
More than any season in recent memory, the crew chiefs have grabbed headlines. Mike Ford (Denny Hamlin’s crew chief), Chad Knaus (Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief) and Gil Martin (Kevin Harvick’s crew chief) will be on NASCAR’s national teleconference, Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET to discuss this season and the prospects of winning a championship come Sunday. Dial-in information can be found on NASCARMedia.com.

Ford, who stirred up some controversy with his quotes about the 48/24 pit crew swap, has two wins at Homestead (with Hamlin last season, and Bill Elliott in 2001).

If Johnson makes the comeback, it would be Knaus’ fifth title, which would rank second all-time among crew chiefs, behind NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Dale Inman’s eight.

Martin joined Harvick in the middle of last season, and the two quickly jelled to become the most consistent team of 2010.

Gordon, Logano, Roush Fenway Among Spoiler List
Though most eyes on the will be on the championship trio, there is a race to be won, by the way.

And historically, a spoiler will win it. The last time the champion won the season finale was Jeff Gordon in 1998.

Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano and any member of the Roush Fenway Racing stable are definite possibilities.

The most intriguing is Gordon, who is looking to break a career-long 64-race winless drought. Homestead remains his lone winless track. If he does win Sunday, he’ll become the first driver to win at every track at which the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series currently races.

Logano, fast becoming a favorite to land a spot in the 2011 Chase, has five consecutive top-10 finishes and three consecutive top fives. He finished 24th at Homestead last year, his lone race there.

With six wins at Homestead, Roush Fenway leads all teams in victories at the 1.5-mile track. Winners of five of the last six races at Homestead, Roush Fenway has sent four different drivers to Victory Lane: Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle (three times), Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.

Top 10; Spot At Las Vegas Awards Ceremony Still In Question
The top 10 drivers will be honored at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas on Dec. 3. And right now, that key 10th-place spot is in question.

A scant five points separates 11th-place Clint Bowyer and 10th-place Kurt Busch. Busch won at Homestead in 2002. Bowyer’s best Homestead finish was fifth in 2008.

- NASCAR Media Sevices

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