Monday, November 14, 2011

Homestead-Miami Ford 400 Preview: Everything Points to Edwards

By Micah Roberts

Edwards last won in Vegas and is -155 favorite to win title at sports books
The dream race match-up is set!

Carl Edwards vs. Tony Stewart in Miami for all the marbles, trophies and accolades that come with winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Edwards maintained his 3-point lead over Stewart with a runner-up finish last week at Phoenix while Stewart led the most laps and finished third.

This is the closest any two drivers have been heading into the final race of the season since the Chase format was implemented in 2004.

Tony Stewart has won two Championships while Edwards is searching for his first. Stewart has won four of the last nine races coming in while Edwards hasn’t won since Las Vegas in March.

While Stewart is emulating the wild card fever we’ve seen with recent champions in football like the Packers, and in baseball like Cardinals, Edwards has been the steadiest of all drivers with 18 top-five finishes to Stewart’s eight.

If we’re looking for who has the hot hand right now, it’s got to be Stewart. But if we look at who has the historical edge since the Homestead-Miami track has been reconfigured, it’s Edwards all day long.

No one in the history of Cup racing at Homestead-Miami has come close to what Edwards has done on the track, which is average a finish of 5.7 in seven starts. He’s won two of the last three races there and is the favorite not only to win the Championship, but the clinching race itself, which would be a rare feat.

The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book posted Edwards as the -155 favorite to win the title over Stewart (+135). The Hilton had the two drivers pick ‘em last week and with Stewart not gaining at Phoenix and Edwards history on the track, a 3-point edge in this race is huge.

Roush drivers have won six of the last seven at Homestead
Stewart has had success on this track winning the first two races ever held on it, but that was under the old flat layout. In 2003, the track made the banking much steeper with speeds similar to what we see at Las Vegas. Since then a Roush driver has won six of the last seven Homestead races, including both of Edwards‘.

While the Roush drivers have been winning all of these races, Stewart has kind of been an also-ran with no top-five finishes in his last six starts there. Of course this is a complete different scenario for Stewart. No one is hotter than him right now and we also have to consider that Stewart didn’t have race hard in the 2005 race because he was winning the championship.

Last season we saw the mental game play a part and get to Denny Hamlin and in the last few weeks we’ve seen Tony Stewart be very vocal about telling Edwards how hard he's coming.

"We're going to make him sweat it out," Stewart said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's a dead heat going in there. I'm pumped. I wish I was going to Homestead tomorrow."

Stewart has been playing Jedi mind tricks through reporters
It remains to be seen if Edwards can be rattled mentally, but just based on his past success on the track it seems doubtful. If anything, the pressure of the moment could be what gets him like it would any athlete in any sport going for their first big championship. But he's taking it all in stride and not giving Stewart any bulletin board material.

"This is going to be a battle. I truly believe it's going to be a good race," Edwards said. "That place is magical for us. I really enjoy going there.

"I hope it comes down to the fastest guy winning the race."

Look for Edwards to race for the win and not chance anything by simply following Stewart around. He’ll have a good enough car to do it and if he can stay out of the way of jalopies and hobo's like Brian Vickers, he should have a car to get him there. His closest competitor in the race will likely be Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick.

Like Stewart in 2005, Jimmie Johnson hasn’t had to really compete at a high level in the last five Homestead races just because he was cautiously racing for a clinching finish to seal the deal on his championships. It would be nice to see the five-time champ reverse rolls with Edwards like last year when they both did celebratory burn-outs at the end of the race, kind of like a passing of the torch.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #99 Carl Edwards (6/1)
2) #17 Matt Kenseth (7/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (8/1)
4) #29 Kevin Harvick (12/1)
5) #14 Tony Stewart (10/1)

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