Homestead Story Lines
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on November 17, 2013 | 8:32 A.M. EST
The NASCAR Sprint Cup season comes to an end today with Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick vying for the championship. (Photo: Getty Images)
HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Jimmie Johnson chases history. Matt Kenseth chases redemption. Kevin Harvick chases both.
Johnson will win a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup championship tonight at Homestead-Miami Speedway if he doesn’t have any problems in the Ford EcoBoost 400. Kenseth, who starts on the pole, is trying to recover from a disastrous race last weekend at Phoenix that significantly reduced his title chances. Harvick has an outside shot after last weekend’s victory.
Johnson enters today’s race 28 points ahead of Kenseth and 34 ahead of Harvick. Only four times since 1975 has the points leader entering the season finale not won the crown. It’s happened twice since 2010 when Johnson came from behind to beat Denny Hamlin, and Tony Stewart rallied to defeat Carl Edwards.
Johnson needs only to finish 23rd or better today and he’ll clinch the title, which would leave him one behind Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most championships all-time.
“He'll go down in history as one of the greatest, if not the greatest,’’ car owner Richard Childress of Johnson. “He's got many good years ahead of him. I think he'll set a lot of records before he decides to hang it up.’’
Johnson isn’t focused on history but 400 miles.
“It's not a lay‑up, you can't just think things are going to go as they always have,’‘ said Johnson, whose has an average finish of 4.7 in this Chase. “I've lost it from making mistakes. I've lost one blowing a tire down here. We've had a carburetor failure down here, and then we've had a lot of good ones.’’
Kenseth knows he faces a daunting task.
“If Jimmie does have a problem, he's so far ahead, the problem needs to be fairly severe,’’ Kenseth said. “If it is, you need to be pretty far toward the front because hypothetically he could have a problem, and if Kevin and I are running around 12th and 13th, Jimmie could still win.’’
The title chase is just among the many story lines with the Sprint Cup season finale. Here are others:
WHAT’S YOUR LINE?
One of the great things about Homestead-Miami Speedway is the various lines drivers can use around the track. Do they stay at the bottom? Run near the wall? Or go somewhere in between? It’s a quality that makes this track worthy of hosting the season finale.
The key is finding a car that can be comfortable on various lines because a driver will use all of them during the race. The talk on radio channels this weekend often included questions about where the fast drivers were running on the track.
Keep an eye on where drivers run and how that changes as the race progresses. See where those who are fast run and then see how many try to duplicate that line.
Jimmie Johnson noted that he’s often had issues at Homestead even in the races he went on to clinch championships. What happens when adversity strikes could determine who wins the title.
Matt Crafton faced that in Friday’s Camping World Truck race. Although Crafton had clinched the driver’s title, his team lost the owner’s title on a tiebreaker after an incident with a competitor late in that race.
Austin Dillon won the Nationwide title despite struggling throughout the race, which led crew chief Danny Stockman to say afterward: “Pretty much ran the race terrible.’’ But he was a champion.
Today marks the last chance for four drivers - Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Marcos Ambrose - who won races last season to avoid going winless this season.
Hamlin has had at least one victory in each of his seven previous seasons in Cup. It is the fourth longest active streak behind Tony Stewart (at least one win in each of past 15 seasons), Jimmie Johnson (12 seasons) and Kyle Busch (nine seasons).
END OF AN ERA
Sunday’s race could be the final Cup race for Mark Martin, Ken Schrader and Dave Blaney. Those three have combined to make 2,108 Cup starts entering today’s race.That doesn’t even count former champion Bobby Labonte, who made his last start of the season last weekend and doesn’t know where he’ll race next year.
Martin says he has no plans for next season other than to serve as a test driver for Tony Stewart’s team in the preseason. Schrader has indicated this will be his final Cup race. Blaney says he might return to sprint car racing and spending time watching his son, Ryan, compete in NASCAR.
Sunday also marks Jeff Burton’s final ride with Richard Childress Racing, Kurt Busch’s last race with Furniture Row Racing, Martin Truex Jr.’s last run with Michael Waltrip Racing, Kevin Harvick’s final race with Richard Childress Racing and Ryan Newman’s last drive with Stewart-Haas Racing. All will move to new teams next season.
Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage of Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway at 2 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MotorRacingNetwork.com.