|The pits will play a major role in Keselowski winning title Sunday (Getty)|
Going into Phoenix last week Jimmie Johnson was a -275 favorite to win his sixth title in seven seasons. He looked to be coasting after winning the two previous races with only two races remaining. But after a blown tire relegated him to a 32nd-place finish, Johnson finds himself 20-points behind the tenacious Brad Keselowski.
Now with the season finale at Homestead upon us, Johnson is 10-to-1 to win the Championship -- his highest odds of the season -- and Keselowski is a whopping -1500 (bet $15 to win $1). But this thing is far from over, and Johnson is a driver you never want to doubt.
“My focus is going down there (Homestead) and winning the race,” Johnson said. “We typically haven’t had to have that mentality going into this race, but we have shown we can race for the win. We did it in 2010 against Denny (Hamlin), finished second and won the championship.
Johnson was 15 points behind a young Denny Hamlin in 2010 going into Homestead. Hamlin had shown signs of breaking down on and off the track the week prior at Phoenix, but Keselowski has shown no mental breakdown this year. However, Johnson is still confident based on the game the No. 2 team will have to play.
“This No. 48 Lowe’s team can do it again. We have nothing to lose and can gamble and take chances. Brad (Keselowski) doesn’t have that luxury. This isn’t over. This team never gives up, and we don’t intend to now.”
Because of Johnson's focus on winning this week, he's been installed as the 4-to-1 favorite to win despite having never won on the track. Part of the reason they have never won, at least in his five championship seasons, was that he didn't have to. He played the cautious role like the No. 2 has to play this week.
“We will go down and do our part and just see how things unfold,” Johnson said. “(Phoenix) was proof that anything can happen in this sport, and we will see how things shake out in Miami.”
While it would be nice to see history with Johnson winning another title as he chases his goal of winning eight championships, which would give him the most ever in NASCAR, it would be kind of refreshing to see the Keselowski win. It would also be cool to see Roger Penske finally win his first NASCAR Championship as an owner.
“When I first came to Penske Racing, I viewed it as an organization with so much potential," Keselowski said earlier this week. "I had a vision for what I knew this place could become, and I shared that with Mr. Penske in our first meeting together. And as he began to give (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) and I the things that we needed, we began to show results on the racetrack which, in turn, led to a lot of trust among myself, Mr. Penske, Paul and everyone else at Penske Racing.
"So having a legitimate shot to win the championship this weekend is something that I take great pride in because I know we got there together. Everything about this team is first-class, from our owner to our facility to our sponsor, Miller Lite. We have everything we need to be a championship contender for years to come and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”
Keselowski is using a chassis this week that finished 11th at Charlotte in September. His best career finish at Homestead was 13th in 2010, but it's fair to say we can throw out all his past history as he's had a succession of career runs on tracks he never performed well at during the Chase.
Because of Johnson's determination and desperation, he's favorite to win Sunday. Keselowski is listed at 10-to-1, low odds because he figures to coast around the track cautiously watching what Johnson does.
Outside of Johnson, the drivers we want to take a look at are all housed in the Roush Racing stable. They have won six of the past eight races at Homsestead, including Carl Edwards runner-up finish last season that cost him the championship by one-point. Greg Biffle won three in a row from 2004-06, Matt Kenseth won in 2007 and Edwards won two of the past four. The best of them all this week looks to be Kenseth.
“We had a really fast car last year at Homestead and we were able to finish fourth," said Kenseth. "Homestead is one of my favorite tracks on the circuit and it’s a great place to end the season. I think that with the banking they put in a few years ago, Homestead has really become one of the best tracks that we race at. There’s enough banking that we can run side-by-side, and the groove ends up being along the top line. I just think it’s a place that creates great racing, so I’m looking forward to this weekend and would love to get a win for this No. 17 team.”
The best part about Kenseth this week besides his optimism is that he's using his winning chassis from Kansas last month. Kenseth can be had at 8-to-1.
Homestead is a 1.5-mile track with progressive banking, but the configuration makes it different from all the other D-shaped ovals on the circuit. However, the set-ups used on the fast tracks like Charlotte, Atlanta and Texas are applicable here, so it's a good idea to check those recent results before placing a wager.
A nice longshot look this week is Kevin Harvick at 25-to-1. He's never won at Homestead, but does have a 7.9 career average that includes two runner-ups. It may sound odd to back a driver that just won his first race of the season a week prior, but Edwards did the same thing in 2010, closing out a then-winless season with two straight wins.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #17 Matt Kenseth (8/1)
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson (4/1)
3) #16 Greg Biffle (12/1)
4) #29 Denny Hamlin (8/1)
5) #29 Kevin Harvick (25/1)
NASCAR Awards ceremony at Wynn
If you want to say hello to one of the 12 Chase drivers, all you have to do is visit Wynn Las Vegas during the NASCAR award ceremony week schedule to begin Tuesday, November 27. Chances are, the crews and drivers will be all over town, but the Wynn and Encore is where most of them will be staying.
John Avello will open up his sports book on Tuesday to the national radio show “NASCAR Live’ and at 4:00 p.m., they’ll be doing a one-hour live radio show with this years champion which looks like it will be Brad Keselowski. Everyone is invited to come out, say hello, grab some autographs, and offer their congratulations.
Video: Roberts talks Chase and Homestead Odds