Homestead: Round 36 preview

* Trio Vies For Grand Prize In Season Finale * Race Within A Race For Coveted Top 35 Spot * Spoil Sports: Roush Fenway Racing, Logano Will Hamlin, Johnson Or Harvick Wear 2010 Series Crown? One weekend. One title. Three drivers. Those six ...

Homestead: Round 36 preview

* Trio Vies For Grand Prize In Season Finale
* Race Within A Race For Coveted Top 35 Spot
* Spoil Sports: Roush Fenway Racing, Logano

Will Hamlin, Johnson Or Harvick Wear 2010 Series Crown?

One weekend. One title. Three drivers.

Those six words summarize Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season -- ends.

Only 46 points separate the top three Chase contenders -- the drivers eligible to be crowned champion.

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota) leads the standings, by 15 points over second-place Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) and 46 points over third-place Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/ Pennzoil Chevrolet).

That 15-point spread between first and second is the closest with one to go in the Chase's seven-year history. It's third-closest overall since the current points system took effect in 1975.

None of it is a surprise. Hamlin, Johnson or Harvick have led the standings in 34 of the 35 weeks to date.

And Hamlin -- the Chase's top seed and the series-leader in wins (eight) -- is the catbird. He wins his first title with a victory on Sunday or by finishing second and leading the most laps. That's regardless of Johnson's and Harvick's performances.

Hamlin also is the defending winner of Sunday's event, and has three top fives and a Driver Rating of 94.7 in five starts at Homestead-Miami.

Johnson, the reigning and four-time series champion, knows the pressure-cooker best. But his title path isn't quite so straight. Even if he wins Sunday, he'll need help. And it won't come from history. Since 1975 (again, the institution of the current points system), only two drivers have overcome a deficit in the season finale to win a title -- Richard Petty in 1979 and Alan Kulwicki in 1992. Petty trailed Darrell Waltrip by two points in '79 and Kulwicki trailed Davey Allison by 30 points in '94.

A six-time winner in 2010, Johnson led the Chase after five of the nine Chase races. He had entered the season finale as the leader in his four previous title years and has six top 10s in nine Homestead-Miami starts.

Harvick has more points work to do to win his first series title. But statistics are in his corner. No NASCAR Sprint Cup driver has logged more top 10s (25) or led the standings longer (after 20 of the first 26 races).

Harvick's Homestead-Miami statistics also are the best among the three contenders -- four top fives, seven top 10s, a 101.1 Driver Rating and an average finish of 8.4.

Regardless of title hopes, Harvick will guarantee his best career points finish. His previous best, fourth, came in 2006 and '08.

The three title-contending crew chiefs and team owners also could make history.

Hamlin's crew chief, Mike Ford, and Harvick's crew chief, Gil Martin, would win their first series titles.

Ford has two Homestead-Miami race wins, with Bill Elliott in 2001 and last year with Hamlin.

If Johnson wins the series title, it would be crew chief Chad Knaus' fifth title, which would place him second among all-time championship-winning crew chiefs. Dale Inman leads with eight titles. Knaus is tied for second with Kirk Shelmerdine; both have four titles.

If Hamlin prevails, the 2010 title would be Joe Gibbs Racing's fourth series title -- with three different drivers. Joe Gibbs would be the second team owner to accomplish that feat. Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports was the first. Gibbs won the 2000 series title with Bobby Labonte and the 2002 and '05 titles with Tony Stewart.

If Johnson wins, Hendrick would win his 10th series owner title, breaking a tie with Petty Enterprises, which has nine, for the most NASCAR Sprint Cup owner titles.

If Harvick wins, Richard Childress Racing owner Richard Childress would win his seventh series owner title and his first since 1994, with Dale Earnhardt. It also would be his 12th national-series owner title, which would tie him with Hendrick for the most all-time.

Top 35: Can No. 71 Chevrolet Hold Crucial Cutoff Spot?

Apart from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title battle, another important standings battle remains to be resolved Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

After the first five weeks of each season, the top 35 teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup owner standings are guaranteed starting spots in each week's field. The previous season's final top 35 owner standings determine those guaranteed spots during the season's first five races.

Which means the top-35 cutoff is a big deal heading into Sunday's race at Homestead-Miami.

The No. 71 TRG Motorsports Chevrolet owned by Kevin Buckler and driven this week by Andy Lally is the current 35th-place team in the owner standings.

The No. 38 A&W Ford owned by Doug Yates and driven by Dave Blaney is 36th, 74 points behind the No. 71. Blaney has three top 10s in nine starts at Homestead-Miami.

"The points might be too much to make up at this point," Baney said. "We recognize that. But that doesn't mean we aren't going to go out there and give it our best shot. Strange things can happen, where all the chips fall in the right places. You never know. But I'll tell you what -- if we don't make it, it's definitely not for lack of trying."

The No. 26 Air Guard Ford owned by Bill Jenkins and driven by Patrick Carpentier is 37th, 172 points out of 35th and 98 points out of 36th.

On the opposite side of the cutoff, the No. 37 Taco Bell Ford owned by Doug Yates and driven by David Gilliland -- a Front Row Motorsports teammate of Blaney's No. 38 team -- is 34th, 18 points ahead of 35th.

"Obviously, it's our last race of the year, so we want to have a good run," Gilliland said. "You never want to go into the off-season with a bad taste in your mouth from wrecking out of the race or having a mechanical problem or anything like that. You want to go out on a high note."

Another Front Row Motorsports team -- the No. 34 Long John Silver's Ford owned by Bob Jenkins and driven by Travis Kvapil -- is a bit more comfortable in 33rd, 30 points ahead of 35th.

Statistics Matter: Roush Fenway Dominant At Homestead-Miami

Roush Fenway Racing's three Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup-eligible teams can't win the 2010 series title, but they could win Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And then some.

A victory by Carl Edwards (No. 99 Aflac Ford) instantly brands him a 2011 title contender.

Edwards currently sits fourth in the Chase standings and won last week's event at Phoenix International Raceway. That victory broke a 70-race winless drought that dated to Nov. 16, 2008 at Homestead-Miami, which bodes well for Edwards and his teammates.

Roush Fenway leads all teams with six wins at the South Florida track. Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford) has three wins, Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Crown Royal Ford) and Edwards both have one win and former Roush Fenway driver and 2004 series champion Kurt Busch (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge), now with Penske Racing, has one.

Edwards, who has one win, three top fives and five top 10s in six career starts at Homestead-Miami, is on an end-of-season roll. He won from the pole at Phoenix.

"We've got a ton of momentum right now," he said. "I feel like our 1.5-mile program is really strong, and our team is riding a huge wave from last weekend's win in Phoenix. We can't lose at Homestead because no matter what happens we all feel like we finished the season strong. We're just going to go for the win and hopefully finish top four in points. That would be huge."

"Coca-Cola Fuels NASCAR Championship Drive" Set For This Week In South Beach Circle Thursday, Nov. 18 for "Coca-Cola Fuels NASCAR Championship Drive," a two-day, Miami Beach-based fan fest highlighted by a Zac Brown Band concert in South Beach.

The free festivities begin at noon Thursday, with two-time Daytona 500 winner and NASCAR team owner Michael Waltrip welcoming fans at Lummus Park (between 7th and 9th Streets).

Driver appearances begin simultaneously.

"As NASCAR fans get ready for one of the most exciting weekends in all of motorsports anywhere in the world, 'Coca-Cola Fuels NASCAR Championship Drive' is a chance to show our appreciation to the most loyal fans in sports," said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. "Our partners have done a great job collaborating with Homestead-Miami Speedway and NASCAR to create a true marquee event for all fans enjoying a weekend crowning new champions for all three of our national series."

Fans can participate in driver question-and-answer sessions and contests such as "Fast Lane Trivia," giveaways from the NASCAR Street Tour, and the "NASCAR Hot and Spicy Cook-off" competition with chefs representing Miami-Dade County fire departments.

Fans also can drive simulators, change tires in a pit crew challenge, pilot remote-controlled cars, take photos inside a stock car, check out the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series trophy and more.

NASCAR team transporters arrive during a 3 p.m. parade into Miami Beach and Lummus Park. The Zac Brown Band cranks up the volume with a 7 p.m. concert, which will be streamed live by NASCAR.COM from Lummus Park.

"With the first ever 'Coca-Cola Fuels NASCAR Championship Drive', we're offering fans a new way to come together and celebrate the culmination of the championships across all three series," said Beatriz Perez, chief marketing officer, Coca-Cola North America. "With an exciting live performance in South Beach and the concert streamed online, we continue to bring NASCAR fans closer to Coca-Cola and the sport they love -- both at the track and beyond."

In The Loop: Logano A Threat At Homestead-Miami

Joey Logano (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), member of the 2011 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

That might sound a little premature, and just a season ago, probably a little far-fetched.

After all, just last season, Logano was an 18-year-old rookie who took over one of the most successful rides from one of the most successful drivers -- the No. 20 and Tony Stewart, who now drives the No. 14 Office Depot for his own Stewart-Haas Racing.

But now, especially after the last five races, the thought of Logano in next season's Chase sounds about right -- if not likely.

Logano's last five finishes have all been in the top 10, and neatly better than the last. The finishes in order: 7-6-5-4-3.

His stats over the streak impress: an average finish of 5.0, a Driver Rating of 103.0, an Average Running Position of 9.9, a Pass Differential (passes minus times passed) of plus- 66, 44 Fastest Laps Run, 39 Laps Led and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 78.5%.

Compare those numbers to those prior to the streak, and the improvement is startling.

Here are his season stats after the event at Auto Club Speedway, the last time Logano finished outside the top 10: an average finish of 18.0, a Driver Rating of 77.5, an Average Running Position of 17.7, 14 Laps Led and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 47.3%.

Logano has vaulted from 20th in the points standings prior to the streak to his current position of 16th. Only 17 points behind Ryan Newman, the 20-year-old has a legitimate shot at cracking the top 15 in the final points.

Can Logano continue the streak?

His maturation is such that last year's 24thplace finish at Homestead might not provide much insight. In that race, Logano had a Driver Rating of 64.0, an Average Running Position of 21.6 and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of just 10.1%.

Possibly his NASCAR Nationwide Series runs at Homestead could be more indicative of how he'll run this Sunday.

Logano's two NNS starts at Homestead have both resulted in top-10 finishes, and he has a combined Driver Rating of 109.8 and an Average Running Position of 6.4.

On The Line With Title-Contending Crew Chiefs

Mike Ford (Denny Hamlin), Chad Knaus (Jimmie Johnson and Gil Martin (Kevin Harvick) were the guests on Tuesday's NASCAR Teleconference.

Excerpts follow:

Q.: What do you like best about your driver, among the three contenders?

Martin: "I think he works his best under the conditions I think we're going to be under because head games will not bother him. He's one of the best there is at playing head games. I'm very, very happy that we have a driver with that strong of a mental aspect going into this race."

Q.: What was the thought process behind taking your team deep-sea fishing this week?

Martin: "I thought it would be a good idea for the guys to go down, just relax, clear their mind from all this for a day or so because we know that we can finish no worse than third. So we're going to run flat-out all day long with nothing to lose, and other guys will have to play a little bit of defense. We're not intending on playing any defense at all. We're going to throw the long ball all day long and see where it ends up."

Q: What concerns you about Homestead?

Knaus: "I think the biggest concern I've got currently is that we haven't gone to Homestead to truly race yet. We've gone down there with a bit of a protective mindset, so I think that puts us a little bit behind compared to the other guys.

"Denny ran top five most of the race last year. They had a good pit stop at the end, got some good track position, was able to win the race and that was a good job by them. We ran 15th to fifth the majority of the day but never really had to get ourselves in a position where we had to push the car a whole lot. So we haven't had to be the aggressor there. I think that puts us a little bit behind the eight-ball.

Q: Your thoughts on how the No. 11 team will deal with their fuel issue at Phoenix?

Knaus: "Those guys are a pretty stand-up, solid team. I think they're going to be perfectly fine. They've got great race cars, and they've got a really good driver, so I think that they'll show up at the racetrack at Homestead 100 percent and ready to go. If they don't, then they're foolish because they've got an opportunity to do something pretty special. "

Q: Your thoughts going to Homestead?

Ford: "Having a 15-point lead is a huge benefit. We don't feel like we have to go win the race. It would be nice to be able to outrun those two guys, and at the mile and a half stuff, I think we've been really close with Jimmie. I feel like we've been a little bit better than Jimmie at the mile and a halfs recently, and I think we would have to make mistakes if we're going to lose this.

Q: Will the champion win Sunday's race?

Ford: "I can't think of any better storybook ending than having to win the race to win the championship. I think that all three teams are capable of that, and I'd like to think that we can go to Homestead and win that race. That's what we're focused on."

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.

* Milestones

Matt Kenseth, the 2003 series champion, will make his 400th career start this Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

David Gilliland will make his 150th career start.

Kasey Kahne (No. 83 Red Bull Toyota) is pursuing his 50th top-five finish.

Bobby Labonte, the 2000 series champion, is pursuing his 200th top 10.

Four-time series runner-up Mark Martin (No. 5 Chevrolet) is pursuing his 50th career pole.

* Spoilers

No series champion has won the season finale since Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) did it in 1998.

Pencil him in as a possible Sunday winner. A 2010 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup participant, Gordon's seeking to break a career-long 64-race winless drought.

And he has incentive this week -- Homestead-Miami is the only series track where he hasn't won. If Gordon does win, he'll be the only driver to win at every track currently hosting NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.

Second-year driver Joey Logano is another spoiler possibility. He's racked up five consecutive top-10 finishes and three consecutive top fives. He finished 24th last year at Homestead-Miami, his only start there.

* Las Vegas Top 10 Still Up For Grabs

All eyes are on the top of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, where leader Denny Hamlin, second-place Jimmie Johnson and third-place Kevin Harvick will decide the 2010 series championship.

But there's plenty at stake at the bottom of the 12-driver Chase standings.The top 10 drivers following Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be honored during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas on Dec. 3. So plenty of bragging rights remain.

Only five points separate 11th-place driver Clint Bowyer (No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet) from 10th-place Kurt Busch. Busch has the slight edge. He won at Homestead-Miami in 2002. Bowyer's best there was a fifth-place finish in 2008.

* Up Next: Champion's Week

It's an exclamation point and celebration all at once -- the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' traditional Champion's Week.

Traditionally held the first week in December, the 2010 celebration returns to the host city of Las Vegas for a second consecutive year.

The centerpiece, of course: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony -- the series' champion's formal coronation. The champion team, car owner and sponsor also are recognized during the event -- held Friday, Dec. 3 at Wynn Las Vegas -- as are the drivers who finish second through 10th in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

SPEED has the broadcast live at 9 p.m. ET.

The series champion arrives in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Nov. 30, and will participate in another long-standing tradition that day -- landmark photographs at iconic Las Vegas locations.

The week's events begin Wednesday, Dec. 1 with the Chasers for Charity Fan Fest at Las Vegas Motor Speedway's Neon Garage. The top 12 drivers will walk a red carpet through fans, then compete in a Family Feud-style game show hosted by comedian Kevin Burke from 2-4 p.m.

An autograph session with Miss Sprint Cup, live music and rides by the Richard Petty Driving Experience are among the day's offerings. The free event runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Thursday, Dec. 2, begins with the invitation-only NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon at 11 a.m. at the Bellagio Ballroom. It recognizes seasonal contingency award winners, plus winners of major industry awards.

Then it's on to NASCAR Victory Lap -- an exciting parade lap up Las Vegas Blvd., or the famed "Strip" -- with the top 12 drivers in their show cars from 3-4 p.m. From there, they'll drive to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino for NASCAR After the Lap -- a free fan fest and driver Q&A -- to he held in The Joint (4:30-6 p.m.)

Champion's Week ends with Friday's awards ceremony. Country music band Rascal Flatts and comedian Frank Caliendo are the evening's entertainment headliners.

Fast Facts

The Race: Ford 400
The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway; Homestead, Fla. (1.5-mile oval)

The Date: Sunday, Nov. 21
The Time: 1 p.m. ET

Race Distance: 400.5 Miles/267 Laps

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET (Pre-race: Noon ET, ESPN2)
Radio: MRN/Sirius NASCAR Radio, Channel 128.

2009 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson 2009 Winner: Denny Hamlin

Schedule Prior To Race Day:(Times local/ET)
Friday--Practice, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; Qualifying, 3:10 p.m.
Saturday--Practice, 1:30-2:15 p.m. and 2:50-3:50 p.m.

-source: nascar

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