Championship Sunday: It’s Not Over Yet
Trite, perhaps, but true: It isn’t over until it’s over. That’s the feeling as two competitors – one a relative newcomer, the other a five-time champion – settle the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Championship Sunday: It’s Not Over Yet
Trite, perhaps, but true: It isn’t over until it’s over.
That’s the feeling as two competitors – one a relative newcomer, the other a five-time champion – settle the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Brad Keselowski’s championship math is simple as he carries a 20-point lead into the season finale: a finish of 15th or better; or 16th and at least one lap led; or 17th and the most laps led, even if Jimmie Johnson wins and leads the most laps.
That, however, might be easier said than done as Keselowski has a single top-15 finish – 13th in 2010 – and three finishes of 20th or worse in four previous starts at Homestead. So far, he’s the only Chase qualifier to have finished each Chase race this year 11th or better. But he’s cognizant that the misfortune – tire failure and accident – that befell Johnson at Phoenix could lurk just around any one of Homestead’s 1,068 corners.
“Certainly if you have the choice you always want to be in the lead of the points, especially in the closing races, so I’m thankful for that,” Keselowski said. “But I also know that the troubles that they had are the same troubles that we could have next week, and so you try not to take anything for granted.”
Johnson obviously is all in at one of just five tracks where he’s without a NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.
“We typically haven’t had to have that mentality going into this race, but we have shown we can race for the win,” said Johnson, whose Homestead Driver Rating is 95.2, fourth-best among Chase contenders. “We have nothing to lose and can gamble and take chances. Brad [Keselowski] doesn’t have that luxury. This isn’t over.”
Storylines? They’re abundant.
Twenty-eight-year-old Keselowski bids to become the series’ first new champion since 2006, going from dark horse contender to championship controller over NASCAR’s nine-race post season.
Johnson, down but certainly not out, has done this before. In 2010, trailing Denny Hamlin by 15 points (about four under the current system), he finished second at the 1.5-mile South Florida track to vanquish his rival.
Then there’s the question of which team has the edge on the pit box. Five-time championship crew chief Chad Knaus is arguably the brightest mind of the current era. But Paul Wolfe, Keselowski’s crew chief, figuratively has turned lead into gold with one strategic call after another to put his No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge team within one race of a title.
Finally, it’s owner vs. owner and manufacturer against manufacturer.
Roger Penske has few peers in open-wheel racing, winning the Indianapolis 500 15 times with a hall of fame lineup of drivers. But despite 1,571 NASCAR Sprint Cup starts and 76 victories, Penske never has won the sport’s biggest prize. Penske finished second in 1993 when NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Wallace won 10 races. Keselowski has gifted his owner with his only NASCAR title to date, the 2010 Nationwide Series championship.
On the opposite side of the ledger is Hendrick Motorsports and owner Rick Hendrick. HMS has won 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup titles with Johnson (five), Jeff Gordon (four) and Terry Labonte. The organization captured its 200th victory earlier this year at Darlington Raceway and qualified each of its four drivers – Johnson, Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne – for this year’s Chase.
Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet is the standard-bearer for the series’ dominant manufacturer. Johnson’s 60th victory Nov. 4 at Texas Motor Speedway was the brand’s 700th. Chevrolet won its 36th manufacturer title in 2012, most by any nameplate.
Conversely, this week’s Homestead race will signal farewell – for now anyway – for the Dodges wheeled by Keselowski. Dodge won its first race in 1953 with Lee Petty, its last driver championship in 1975 with Richard Petty and rejoined the series with manufacturer-supported teams in 2001. Keselowski’s five 2012 victories bring Dodge’s win total to 217.
Edwards In Spoiler Role As Dismal Season Ends
Disappointing might not be a strong enough word to describe Carl Edwards’ 2012 season.
A year ago, Edwards went to the Ford EcoBoost400 finale leading the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. He didn’t win the championship, losing to Tony Stewart on a most-wins tiebreaker, but the season obviously ranked the best of the Missouri native’s NASCAR Sprint Cup career.
What a difference a season makes. Instead of building on the “near-miss” title and a Coors Light Pole for February’s Daytona 500, Edwards’ No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford became ensnared in a season-long down draft. Edwards goes to Sunday’s season finale without a win and outside the Chase.
Ranked 15th in points with just three top fives and 13 top 10s, the 2012 season statistically is Edwards’ worst in his eight years as a full-time series competitor.
Homestead-Miami Speedway, however, is a good place to kick-start 2013 and end the year on a positive note – for Edwards and RFR. A victory, and the bonus points that go with it, could make Edwards a spoiler and perhaps have an impact on who ultimately claims this year’s championship.
Edwards has been superlative at the 1.5-mile Homestead layout, fashioning a pair of victories (2008, 2010) and finishing eighth or better in seven consecutive races. The Columbia, Mo., veteran has an average finish of 5.2 and a series-leading Driver Rating of 120.9. Since 2005, Edwards has dominated virtually every Loop Scoring Data category and led 26.2% of the eight races.
Roush Fenway Racing has won seven of 13 Homestead races – including five in a row between 2004 and 2008. Current drivers and Chase qualifiers Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth have combined for four victories.
Two Streaks, Two Partnerships Near Checkered Flag
Two streaks are on the line this weekend in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, while two drivers suit up for the last time for their current teams.
In March 2002, Kurt Busch won his first NSCS race at Bristol. That victory was the first of 24 and marked the start of a 10-year streak in which he posted at least one win annually. Busch’s streak could come to an end in 2012 if he does not cross the finish line first this weekend. In 11 starts at the track, Busch has one victory and four top-five finishes.
After 11 years of capturing at least one pole every year, Ryan Newman’s streak is also in jeopardy this weekend. With 49 career poles, Newman has yet to post a pole in 2012. The last year he didn’t have a pole was in 2000, when he ran only one event. Newman has no poles and three top-10 finishes in 10 races at Homestead.
Matt Kenseth will take the seat behind a Roush Fenway Racing Ford for the 471st and final time at Homestead. The only event he ran a non-Roush race car in was in his 1998 debut at Dover. Kenseth (24 career victories) moves to Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 20 Toyota for 2013. In 12 starts at Homestead, Kenseth has one win and three top fives.
To make way for Kenseth at JGR, Joey Logano is leaving the Toyota he’s piloted full-time since 2009 and heading to Penske Racing and the No. 22 Ford. In 145 starts for JGR, Logano has two wins. In three races at Homestead, Logano’s best finish is 19th.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
This weekend’s Ford EcoBoost 400 will be the last race run with the current-generation Cup car. In 2013, new models from Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota will heat up the tracks starting at the Daytona Speedweeks. These new cars will look more like their street-production counterparts that fans can purchase at dealerships. … Multi-platinum recording artist Daughtry and Universal Latino recording artist Frankie J. will perform this weekend at the third-annual NASCAR Championship DriveTM festival featuring the Coca-Cola Racing Family Concert. … Title contender Brad Keselowski will make his 125th NSCS start this weekend, while Chase driver Tony Stewart will suit up for the 500th time.
Home Tracks Roundup
Final Two 2012 Champs Crowned
The final two NASCAR touring series champions were crowned over the weekend.
Dylan Kwasniewski captured the 2012 championship in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West with his runner-up finish at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday. In the process, the 17-year-old Las Vegas driver became the youngest champ in series history.
Kwasniewski joins Kyle Larson, who won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title, as two members of the 2012 Next9 class to win NASCAR championships. Next9 is an industry initiative designed to spotlight the sport’s next wave of national series stars.
Jorge Goeters finished sixth Sunday in the Final Mexico Toyota 200 at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City to claim Mexico’s NASCAR Toyota Series championship.
Kwasniewski, Goeters, Larson, DJ Kennington (NASCAR Canadian Tire Series), Ander Vilarino (Euro-Racecar Series), Doug Coby (NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour) and George Brunnhoelzl III (NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour) will be honored at NASCAR Night of Champions Awards on Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center adjacent to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
National champion Lee Pulliam, along with U.S. state/Canadian province and track champions, will be honored at the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Awards on Dec. 7, also at the Charlotte Convention Center.
History In The Balance In Stenhouse, Sadler’s Last Stand
Much like the classic Western film featuring American icon John Wayne, the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship has come down to an old-fashioned showdown. Only in this tale of desperadoes facing their last stand, life doesn’t hang in the balance, but rather history. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has the opportunity to become the sixth driver in the NNS to win consecutive titles. Accomplishing the feat would place him alongside Sam Ard (1983-84), Larry Pearson (1986-87), Randy Lajoie (1996-97), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1998-99) and Martin Truex Jr. (2004-05).
Stenhouse holds a 20-point lead in the series standings over second-place Elliott Sadler after finishing third at Phoenix. Stenhouse has been at the top of his game this season, posting a season-to-date Driver Rating of 110.2 (leads series), and an Average Running Position of 8.727. In 32 starts, Stenhouse has amassed six wins, four poles, 19 top fives and 25 top 10s.
Sadler and Stenhouse have battled it out all season, trading the standings lead five times and giving Sadler reason to not give up. Sadler has posted four wins, four poles, 15 top fives and 23 top 10s this season.
Though both have proven their mettle, heading to Homestead the stats are pointing to Stenhouse. In just two series starts at the 1.5-mile track, Stenhouse has an average finish of 3.0, a pre-race Driver Rating of 116.4 and has spent 93.8% of his laps completed in the top 15. Sadler, on the other hand, has an average finish of 12.0, pre-race Driver Rating of 89.7 and has spent 64.8% of his laps completed in the top 15.
Stenhouse can clinch the championship with a finish of 16th or better; 17th or better with at least one lap led; or 18th or better with most laps led.
Patrick Setting New Standard For Women in NASCAR
Putting into words accomplishments that transcend all sports landscapes is difficult, but the success that Danica Patrick is on the verge of achieving is one for the record books. Following the race at Homestead this weekend, Patrick could set the record for the highest-finishing female driver in NASCAR national series history. She is currently 10th in the standings just 10 points behind ninth-place Brian Scott. The previous record was held by Sara Christian, who finished 13th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings in 1949 – a 63-year-old record.
Since Patrick’s immersion into NASCAR she has proved a quick learner. In her first full season in the NNS, she has posted one pole (Daytona) and four top 10s. Patrick has already captured several records in NASCAR:
- Most laps led in a NASCAR national series single event by female driver – 20 laps led at Montreal (2012)
- Most career laps led in a NASCAR national series by female driver – 56 total laps led.
- Highest-finishing position by a female driver in a NASCAR national series event – Patrick finished fourth at Las Vegas (2011).
- The second female driver to win a NASCAR national series pole – 1) Shawna Robinson (1994, Atlanta) and 2) Patrick (2012, Daytona).
Joe Gibbs Could Become Second Owner To Win Four Series Titles
No other team has been more dominant in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the last few seasons than the Joe Gibbs Racing camp, and this season looks to be more of the same. Not only has Joe Gibbs Racing driver Joey Logano posted the most wins in the series with nine, but Joe Gibbs is also on deck to become the second owner in series history to win four owner titles (previous JGR owner titles 2008-10). Richard Childress Racing (2001, 2003, 2006-07) currently holds the record in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the most owner championships with four.
Since 2008, JGR drivers have posted 68 wins out of a possible 171 races. That’s a winning percentage of 39.7%. Also in that span, Kyle Busch brought Joe Gibbs Racing its first driver/owner unified championship title (2009).
As the series heads to Homestead, the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driven by Logano can guarantee a clinch of the owner’s title with a finish of 28th or better; 29th or better with at least one lap led; or 30th or better with the most laps led. The No 18 currently leads the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford by 33 points.
NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.
The 2013 NNS schedule has been released. There will be 33 races on next year’s schedule and for the first time in series history the NNS will visit the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, a 2.4-mile road course in Lexington, Ohio. Next season’s schedule also includes six “standalone” race dates. For a complete 2013 schedule go to www.NASCARMedia.com … Homestead is the last chance for Kyle Busch to continue his NNS wins streak of eight seasons. Busch leads the series in wins with 52 and could tie Mark Martin for the longest winning streak in series history (nine seasons) with a victory this weekend.
Buescher Controls Championship Scenarios At Homestead
Historically speaking, standings leader James Buescher is the favorite to win his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship when the checkered flag waves on the 2012 season Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Just twice since the season finale shifted to South Florida in 2002 has the points lead changed hands in the final event. Travis Kvapil is the only third-ranked driver to advance to the title, leap-frogging Ted Musgrave and leader Brendan Gaughan in 2003. Ron Hornaday Jr. made up a 29-point deficit to catch Mike Skinner in 2007. Jack Sprague is the only other second-place driver to prevail in the finale, edging Greg Biffle in 1999.
With five competitors mathematically in contention for the championship, however, anything’s possible – including a replay of 2003 when all four contenders held the theoretical points lead at various stages of the event, which turned on Musgrave being penalized for jumping a crucial, late-race restart.
Buescher’s lead is somewhere between comfortable and tenuous, depending upon the performance of his rivals. Veteran Timothy Peters trails by 11 points; Sunoco rookie Ty Dillon by 12; Joey Coulter (-29); and Parker Kligerman (-37). The number of championship hopefuls matches that of 1999, but the overall point spread is closest ever. Buescher, 22, can clinch the title by finishing seventh with no laps led, eighth with one or more laps led and ninth with the most laps led.
Dillon Brothers’ Sunoco Rookie Performances Similar
Should Ty Dillon become this season’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year – he’s the runaway leader in the standings by 74 points over Cale Gale – it will mark the first time siblings have captured the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ second-most prestigious honor. Dillon would follow his older brother, Austin, the 2010 top rookie who “graduated” to series champion in 2011.
The brothers’ rookie season records are remarkably similar. Austin had two wins to (so far) Ty’s one. Both posted seven top-five finishes. Ty has one more top 10 – 17 – than his older brother. Austin ranked fifth overall in 2010. Ty, currently third, is just 12 points behind standings leader James Buescher and could become the first to own both championship and rookie of the year trophies in the same season.
Richard Childress Racing would have the top rookie for the second consecutive year. Joey Coulter was last year’s leading freshman and – like Austin – could become the NCWTS champion in his second full season. Coulter currently ranks fourth.
Series rookies of the year have built solid foundations for future NASCAR success. Greg Biffle (1998) won the 2000 championship, is a NASCAR Nationwide Series champion and is a perennial Chase qualifier. Kurt Busch (2000) is the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Travis Kvapil (2001) and Carl Edwards (2003) are current NASCAR Sprint Cup competitors. Johnny Sauter (2009) is one of four drivers to win multiple Truck races this season.
Championship Contenders Haven’t Scored In Miami Finales
Don’t expect the 2012 NCWTS champion to win the Ford EcoBoost 200. In 10 season finales at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the winner has been another competitor – and in four of the last eight races a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visitor.
Ron Hornaday Jr. was a surprise entrant in 2002 in a one-off drive for owner Dave Fuge. His victory paved the way for Fuge’s Mike Bliss to clinch the championship.
You could say 19-year-old Kyle Larson has a similar role as teammate to standings leader James Buescher. Larson, the K&N Pro Series East champion, led 48 laps at Phoenix and finished second to Brian Scott. The Elk Grove, Calif., Drive for Diversity and NASCAR #Next9 competitor has finished 10th, sixth and second in his three NCWTS appearances.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Scott is the season’s record 15th different winner. The old mark was set in 1998 and matched in 2005. … Milestone Watch: Ty Dillon needs a top-10 finish at Homestead to match Travis Kvapil’s 2001 rookie season mark of 18 top 10s. … Todd Bodine is the only repeat winner (2005, 2008) in 16 NCWTS races at Homestead-Miami Speedway. … Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 is Kyle Busch’s final chance to extend a seven-season winning streak in the series. Also in jeopardy is Hornaday’s similar streak that began in 2005.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
- The Race: Ford EcoBoost 400
- The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
- The Date: Sunday, Nov. 18
- The Time: 3 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, 2 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
- The Race: Ford EcoBoost 300
- The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, Nov. 17
- The Time: 4:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN2, 4 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
- The Race: Ford EcoBoost 200
- The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
- The Date: Friday, Nov. 16
- The Time: 8 p.m. (ET)
- TV: SPEED, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 201 miles (134 laps)