|All eyes are on Johnson this week as he tries to win sixth title|
For Jimmie Johnson, a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship is oh so close.
The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will carry a 28-point lead – more than half a race worth of points – into Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET ESPN, MRN, SiriusXM Satellite Radio), the final race in the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.
Without question, the championship is Johnson’s to lose. A finish of 23rd or better, regardless of what closest rival Matt Kenseth can muster will deliver an 11th NASCAR Sprint Cup title to team owner Rick Hendrick.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Two drivers, Kenseth and Kevin Harvick, have not been mathematically eliminated and can be expected to mount all-or-nothing performances in South Florida’s season finale. Kenseth is the season’s biggest winner. Harvick, like Kenseth, has two Chase victories – the most recent coming Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway.
Fate, as well, can be fickle. A dropped lug nut, a spin out or accident triggered by another competitor or a caution flag that falls the wrong way during green flag pit stops can turn a potentially title-clinching run into a nightmarish afternoon.
The second-ranked driver with one race remaining has won the championship in two of the past three seasons.
Austin Dillon and Sam Hornish Jr. carry their season-long NASCAR Nationwide Series battle to Homestead-Miami Speedway with Dillon – the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion – holding a slim, eight-point edge over the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner.
The competition is the closest since NASCAR adopted its current point-per-position point system in 2011.
Also at stake in the Ford EcoBoost 300 (4:30 p.m. ET ESPN2) is the coveted series owners’ title. Penske Racing’s No. 22 Ford holds a four-point lead over the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. The contenders are deadlocked in the win column with 12 victories apiece. Penske enters Joey Logano, a three-time winner while JGR counters with Kyle Busch, who captured his series-leading 12th victory last weekend in Phoenix.
Two of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ longest-tenured competitors can be rewarded with the drop of the green flag on Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. ET FOX Sports 1). Matt Crafton, participant in 315 consecutive series races, will win his first NASCAR national series driver’s championship. His No. 88 Toyota, owned by Duke and Rhonda Thorson, holds a 23-point owners’ championship lead over the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota entry.
ThorSport Racing has fielded at least one truck in a series-record 390 consecutive races beginning in 1998. The Sandusky, Ohio-area organization finished third in 2009. KBM is the 2010 owners’ champion in its first year with the series.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES – FORD EC0BOOST 400, SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 3 P.M. ET ON ESPN
Johnson Nears Sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Title
Jimmie Johnson’s drive to the cusp of a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship has been nothing short of spectacular. His 28-point lead has been built via an average finish of 4.7 through the Chase’s first nine races, a record pace. Regardless of what anyone else does, Johnson can capture the title by finishing 23rd or better in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400; 24th or better if he leads a lap and 25th or better if he leads the most laps.
Kenseth Faces Deficit But Runners-Up Have Prevailed Before
Matt Kenseth faces a huge handicap heading to Homestead-Miami Speedway. The second-place driver entering the season finale has won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship before but Kenseth’s 28-point deficit is far greater than the 15 points Jimmie Johnson overcame in 2010 and the three points Tony Stewart erased the following season. NASCAR Sprint Cup history’s biggest comeback is 30 points – roughly seven under the current system – by Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
Harvick’s Title Bid Tenuous But He’s Still Got A Chance
It may be a longshot, but Kevin Harvick could win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in his final race with Richard Childress Racing thanks to the Bakersfield, Calif., veteran’s fourth victory of the season on Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. Harvick enters the final race of the 2013 season 34 points behind Chase leader Jimmie Johnson. He trails second-place Matt Kenseth by six points and by taking another position Harvick would post the highest championship finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career.
Homestead Last Chance To Extend Victory Streaks
Four drivers who won in 2012 – but haven’t visited Victory Lane this season – have one final chance to extend victory streaks. Denny Hamlin has won at least once in seven consecutive seasons from 2006-2012 and won at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2009. Clint Bowyer’s run from 2010-12 is three years. Marcos Ambrose has a two-season streak from 2011-2012. Dale Earnhardt Jr. hopes to add a victory – his 20th – for a second consecutive year.
Biffle Can Improve Chase Standing With Third Homestead Victory
Greg Biffle likely won’t rank this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ among his top racing memories. Biffle heads to the season finale ranked seventh in points. The Washington native, however, could reach the final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top five with a victory in the Ford EcoBoost 400 – a race he won in 2004 and 2006 as a non-Chase qualifier. Sixteen different drivers have won during the 2013 season, one more than a year ago.