Iracingone Weekend Preview/I

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Heading into Sunday's season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, there are still four drivers who can mathematically win the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Championship. Here are some of the many scenarios that can determine who will be crowned the 2005 champion.

Entering the final race of the year, the maximum amount of points that can be made up in one race is 156. With that limitation, only Greg Biffle (who is 102 points behind), Carl Edwards (who is 87 points behind), Jimmie Johnson (who is 52 points behind) and current championship leader Tony Stewart remain in contention for the NEXTEL Cup trophy.

Should championship point leader Stewart, who led going into race one of the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup," finish the day in ninth place or better, nothing else will matter as he will have acquired enough points to win his second career NEXTEL Cup Championship. Should he lead a lap, he would simply need a top 10 result in order to clinch the title.

"It was a lot easier in 2002 because we just had Mark Martin to race against," said the former Champion. "I'm not saying he was an easy guy to compete against, but we only had one guy that we had to worry about all day versus four of us that are worrying about trying to get this trophy."

Beyond Stewart, the remaining drivers do not need to win the Ford 400 in order to win the "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup" Championship, but a visit to Victory Lane can make their scenarios easier to understand.

Jimmie Johnson can technically finish as low as 25th place and still claim his first championship. But in order to have a realistic chance, he should be aiming for a top-10 finish. If under the assumption that both Johnson and Stewart lead a lap, Johnson could finish in 10th place and claim his first championship if Stewart finishes lower than 27th (if Stewart doesn't lead a lap, he could finish 26th or worst and lose the championship).

Should he win and lead the most laps, Stewart would have to finish outside the top ten.

"The last few races we've been slipping a little bit each time, and now there's a bigger gap," said Johnson. "So I'm coming into this relaxed. I know what I need to do, I need to go out and get maximum points and that's all I can control."

If Carl Edwards wins and leads the most laps, he needs the current championship leader to finish lower than 20th (should Stewart lead a lap, he would have to finish lower than 22nd). Also, Johnson has to finish fifth or worse (sixth or worse if he leads a lap). If the Missouri born Edwards were to finish better than 14th, he is still a contender for the championship. Obviously, that would require Stewart to finish dead last…but hey, stranger things have happened. If those two things do occur, then the Lowe's Chevrolet of Johnson has to finish lower than 27th for Edwards to do his first championship back flip.

Greg Biffle has the most difficult mountain to climb in order to celebrate on Sunday. If he wins and leads the most laps, Stewart would have to finish 27th or worse (29th or lower if he leads a lap), Johnson would have to finish lower than eighth (or lower than ninth if he leads a lap) and Edwards could come in second (or third if he leads a lap or more) for Biffle to claim the championship. If he doesn't win, he has to finish inside the top nine and hope the others have a disastrous race day.

As the driver of the No. 16 National Guard Ford admitted earlier this week, his chances are slim. However, he looks forward to Sunday afternoon.

"I think I have the least amount of pressure," said Biffle. "So (I) just come here to try and win like I did last year. Obviously, my goal is to improve my position whether I can be third or second or whatever."

One final scenario to consider as the season winds down. Despite being suspended for the final two races of the season, Kurt Busch could still finish the season in ninth place if Jeremy Mayfield, who is the only person behind the reigning champion, finishes in last place and does not lead a lap.

I wonder if Ray Evernham, owner of Mayfield's No. 19 Dodge, was helping Jack Roush when he decided to take Busch out of his ride?

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