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Homestead Preview: And then there was 1

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, November 19, 2009

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Jimmie Johnson will collect his 4th Sprint Cup trophy on Sunday
It's now down to the final weekend that will conclude the lengthy 2009 NASCAR season. It's champion's weekend. A time for all racing fans to turn their attention to the Florida based Homestead Miami Speedway to officially acknowledge grand conclusions most, of which, we've probably already known for several days now.

THE CHASE BREAKDOWN

Of course there's a Chase breakdown. Following his win at Phoenix last Sunday, Jimmie Johnson has a 108 point lead over Mark Martin and needs a 25th place finish or better from next Sunday's Ford 400 to clinch that history making fourth consecutive Sprint Cup championship. That of course is extremely doable and very likely.

But let's not overlook the other possible Chase scenario. That would be the possibility of Johnson and company experiencing an early race complication similar to what happened during the third lap of the Texas race. According to NASCAR archive stats Martin has actually gained more than 108 points over the Johnson team in a single race nine times including a 2005 event at Homestead Miami. Those stats will likely become nothing more pre race Chase hype but it's NASCAR champion's weekend and hype is a big part of that.

Here's yet another set of very interesting stats that has absolutely nothing to do with the Chase, Hypothetically, if the current Chase format had never been invented and implemented the 2009 championship picture would be completely different. Under the old school points system Jimmie Johnson would still be the points leader but would only have a 13 point lead over Tony Stewart and a 56 point lead over Jeff Gordon. Now that would be a championship run.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

There is of course some other story lines, outside of the Chase, that deserves attention. For the second time this season Ford will race its new FR9 engine at the Homestead Miami Speedway. The new engine will be placed in David Ragan's #6 Roush Fenway Ford. The engine debuted at Talladega  and had some very encouraging results during the restrictor plate race. Sunday's Ford 400 will mark the engine's first unrestricted outing in a race.

To no real surprise Earnhardt Ganassi Racing, presented by Felix Sabates, announced on Wednesday the official signing of driver Jamie McMurray to take over their #1 Chevrolet. It's a reported one year deal that will reunite the driver with owner Chip Ganassi whom he drove for during the 2002 to 2005 seasons. McMurray replaces departing driver Martin Truex Jr who will finish his tenure with EGR this Sunday. Truex will be moving to Michael Waltrip Racing next year. Bass Pro Shop and Tracker Boats will return to sponsor the EGR Chevrolet. Crew Chief Kevin "Bono" Manion is expected to also return to the team.

Robby Gordon will be incredibly busy this weekend competing in events located in Mexico and Florida. Gordon will be spending Thursday through Saturday competing in his Baja Trophy Truck during the annual Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 through the deserts of Mexico. Gordon is the current points leader in both the Trophy Truck Division and the overall SCORE Desert Series. Meanwhile in Florida driver Matt Crafton will be filling in for Gordon by practicing and qualifying the Robby Gordon Motorsports Ford for Sunday's Sprint Cup race. Gordon is expected to be in Florida early Sunday morning to drive in the Ford 400.

Reports from earlier this week that said driver Sterling Marlin is retiring at the end of this season may be just a little premature. Marlin said no official decision has been made and he will be spending the winter off time thinking about what he's going to do next year. Earlier in the week the 52 year old NASCAR veteran said in some ways he will miss driving adding "but in some ways I'll be glad it's over. This sport has changed, it's not much fun anymore."

In a nationally syndicated radio interview last Monday Beth Ann Morgenthau, owner of BAM Motorsports, announced her team will be returning to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next year. The team will race a Toyota sponsored by Warner Brothers Records. Announcements regarding driver and crew chief will be forthcoming. This team's last Sprint Cup appearance was back in the 2007 season.

THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

To no one's real surprise the Las Vegas based WSE-World Sports Exchange has Chase contenders Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin at the top of the list at 6 to 1 odds. Apparently the number crunchers from Vegas are thinking that this is the weekend when one of these drivers is going to score their first ever win at the Homestead Miami Speedway. Their employer, Hendrick Motorsports, is also seeking a first win at this track.

Coming in a 8 to 1 odds are Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle. Gordon has never won at this race track either but he does lead all driver in top five finishes, with five, and also most top tens at eight. Meanwhile Biffle is the front runner of the Ford camp with three consecutive wins, 2004-2006, at Homestead Miami.

2008 defending race winner Carl Edwards is ranked at 10 to 1 odds to pull a repeat win in the Ford 400. The same ranking goes for two time race winner Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch. The trio of Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and 2002 winner Kurt Busch are ranked at 12 to 1 odds this week.

Other Sprint Cup notables include Juan Pablo Montoya-13 to 1, Kasey Kahne-15 to 1, Kevin Harvick-20 to 1 while Dale Earnhardt Jr and Brian Vickers share a 25 to 1 ranking.

Now for the weekly disclaimer: NASCAR wants to remind you that these numbers are for informational and entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their racing events.

Having told you that, yours truly just found out this very morning that the girl friend, a card carrying T shirt wearing member of the Junior Nation, called Las Vegas and put a "Benjamin" on the #88 team. She's thinking that the team's bad luck has got to change sooner or later. It's also become apparent that she's been saying that for approximately six months. Now we're getting invitations for comped rooms so she can gamble all weekend long.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

Sunday's Ford 400 is 267 laps or 400.5 miles around the Homestead Miami Speedway's one and a half mile oval.

The race has 48 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 13 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points and must earn a starting berth based on qualifying speed.

Weather could become a major factor this weekend. The forecast calls for partly cloudy and 83 degrees on Friday and partly cloudy, 82 degrees, with a chance of showers on Saturday. Sunday race day could be in peril because showers are in the forecast along with cloudy skies.

The track has progressive banking of 18,19 and 20 degrees in the four turns.

The pit road speed is 45 MPH.

The track opened in 1995 with a NASCAR Nationwide Series event.

The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held there in November of 1999 and was won by Tony Stewart. There has been seven different race winners there since that time. Ford leads all manufacturers with six wins at Homestead Miami. Everyone of those wins have come from Roush Fenway Racing teams.

The track presently has seating for 72,000 fans. .

The Ford 400 will be aired live by ABC Sports beginning at 230 pm eastern time.

Race re airs are scheduled for Monday morning, 3 am eastern, on ESPN2 and Monday afternoon, 1 pm eastern, on ESPN Classic. The final re broadcast will be Wednesday afternoon, 12 pm eastern, on Speed.

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