Talk of the championship battle is going to continue until the green flag waves at Homestead Miami Speedway—as it should. With this being the tightest battle since the implementation of the Chase for the Sprint Cup back in 2004, there is more than enough reason for race fans to be excited.
Many scenarios will be thrown around as well. Likely (or not so likely) possibilities that could play out in the race—and that will ultimately determine the championship—will be discussed repeatedly.
For instance, if Denny Hamlin wins in the Ford 400 this weekend, regardless of where Jimmie Johnson or Kevin Harvick finish, he clinches the title. The same can be said for Johnson. However, if Hamlin finishes second while leading the most laps, Johnson and Hamlin tie for the title and Hamlin is awarded the championship by virtue of a tiebreaker which gives the driver with the most wins the spot.
As far as Harvick, if he wins and leads the most laps he still has to have Hamlin finish at least sixth or worse without leading a lap to have a shot at the championship. Johnson would have to finish worse than third.
But all these scenarios are assuming the drivers win a race, which would be the best scenario for any of them.
Who is to say that either Harvick, Hamlin, or Johnson will Sunday’s race? After all, there are more than enough potential spoilers who have nothing to lose in the final race of the season.
Here are some of those spoilers who have the best chance of stealing a victory and making the points battle that much more interesting:
· Joey Logano- Logano’s last five finishes in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth, and third. Logano would like nothing more than to skip that icky “second” that his teammate Kyle Busch is so fond of and instead score his first full-length Sprint Cup Series victory (his first career victory came in a rain-shortened race at Loudon last season).
Logano has had an up-and-down year of sorts. Though he has finished in all but three events, he has had 11 finishes outside of the top 20 with his worst finishes coming in the spring race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the fall race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the form of a 35th-place finish.
On the flip side of that, Logano has 16 top-10 finishes and an average finish of 16th. Compare that to last season where he had only seven top-10 finishes all season and an average finish of 20th, “Sliced Bread” is slowly turning into a consistent threat when he comes to the track each weekend.
As far as how the sophomore driver will perform this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it’s hard to say. Logano’s only start in the Sprint Cup Series came at this race last season where he finished 24th and on the lead lap.
In the Nationwide Series, his statistics at Homestead are a little more promising. Not only does he have a fourth and a 10th place finish in the last two races there, but he’s also never qualified worse than fourth. If he can translate those kinds of results from the Nationwide to the Sprint Cup Series, we might see that No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in Victory Lane on Sunday.
· Jeff Gordon- If you would have told me before this season that Gordon would fail to win a race before Homestead, I would have checked your temperature and possibly checked you into some sort of psychiatric ward.
Gordon hasn’t had a particularly bad season, with 11 top-fives and 17 top-10s to his credit. Admittedly, that goose egg in the win column is somewhat of a fluke, since Gordon has come close to victory on more than one occasion this year.
HMS is the only racetrack on the current Sprint Cup Series calendar where Gordon has yet to secure a victory, though his statistics at the track are nothing to sneeze at. In 11 starts there’s, he’s led a total of 62 laps, finished in the top 10 nine times, and has an average finish of 10th. Not too shabby! A win is definitely not out of the question this weekend, and after losing his pit crew to Johnson the win might be somewhat of a vindication for not only Gordon but his new pit crew as well.
· Greg Biffle- Up until last week, Biffle was the only driver in the Ford Racing camp with a victory, with two race wins coming at Pocono Raceway and Kansas Speedway. Now with Ford seemingly on some sort of resurgence, Biffle returns to the track where he won three consecutive races from 2004 to 2006.
Aside from those wins, though, Biffle has some work to do. In the races before and after the string of victories, Biffle never finished inside the top 10, with his highest finish coming in the form of a 13th placing in 2007. This track seems to be hit-or-miss for the driver of the No. 16 car, but with nothing to lose on Sunday this could be a “hit” for the Ford camp.
· Carl Edwards- Speaking of Ford, driver Edwards definitely has some momentum on his side after picking up his first win of the season at Phoenix International Speedway last weekend after a near two year winless drought. Not to mention he has back-to-back victories in the Nationwide Series as well.
Like Biffle, Edwards is no slouch when it comes to racing at Homestead. Edwards has never finished worse than 14th at this track—his only finish outside of the top 10—and won at this track back in 2008. Now with Ford finally showing some results as the season winds to a close, back-to-back victories are certainly not out of the question for this Missouri-native.
· Jamie McMurray- After his emotional Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, and Bank of America 500 victories stole the headlines in what has been a dream season for McMurray, there would be no better way to cap it off than with a victory in the final race of the season.
Though his race wins weren’t enough to earn him a spot in this year’s Chase, he’s still gunning for that 13th position in the “best of the rest” category outside of the top 12 in points. McMurray is currently 24 points back from 13th-place Mark Martin.
Though his Homestead statistics don’t necessarily guarantee a victory, neither did his statistics at any of the other tracks. In eight starts, McMurray only has three finishes inside the top 10 and an average finish of 16th. Don’t count out this soon-to-be daddy just yet!