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NASCAR Miami Preview: 3 drivers, 267 laps, one trophy

by Dave Grayson
Thursday, November 18, 2010

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Can Johnson take home the bacon for a 5th straight year?
The drama of the Chase will hit its zenith point this Sunday afternoon with the running of the Ford 400 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Three drivers will battle it out for 267 laps for NASCAR's grand prize: the 2010 Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship trophy. With only 46 points separating the Chase contenders, there is a ton of pre race anticipation that says the Ford 400 could turn into a winner take all shoot out to the checkers.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

All eyes will be on Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick next Sunday afternoon. We will carefully monitor their progress lap after lap. Every time one member of the Chase trio has a change in track position you can expect to see a graphic from ESPN2 informing us how that change impacted the Chase numbers.

Denny Hamlin, and his #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, is at the forefront of the Chase shootout with a 15 point lead over Johnson and a 46 point advantage over Harvick. Mathematically speaking, there are two possible ways for Hamlin to clinch the Chase. The first is rather obvious: win the race. The second clinch scenario is finish second after leading the most laps in the race.

Both scenarios are very doable for Hamlin this Sunday. Among the three championship contenders he's the only one who has won a race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. In fact, he's the defending race winner from last year after starting 38th. In five starts at this speedway Hamlin also has three top five finishes, three top tens and a healthy average finish ratio of 10.6.

But the one thing that Hamlin really seems to have at this point in time is a sense of razor sharp focus. In recent weeks he has been viewed as being somewhat arrogant but we should not be buying into that. When the green flag falls on the Ford 400 next Sunday a highly focused Hamlin will be concentrating  on the job at hand. That razor sharp attention factor could lead to the championship he's always dreamed of.

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The Homestead-Miami Speedway is one of the few tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit where Jimmie Johnson hasn't visited victory lane. In nine starts there he's accumulated three top five finishes, six top tens, an average finish ratio of 12.7 and he's won the pole position twice.

He of course holds the Sprint Cup Series record for winning four consecutive championships and there are many observers who truly believe that his drive for five campaign could happen this Sunday. It's that experience he has in winning a championship that could be a major factor this weekend. Johnson fully understands the procedure and is an expert at dealing with the stress levels it presents.

The other outstanding quality this team has is the combination of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus along with their combined ability to display grace under fire. No matter what racing surprise develops, or the intensity level that it creates, this duo seems to calmly address the issue and work their way through it. That's also the mark of champions.

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Kevin Harvick will also be seeking his first win at Homestead-Miami this Sunday. But in nine starts there he has the best set of numbers among the Chase contenders. That includes five top five finishes, seven top tens and a low average finish ratio of 8.4.

At 46 points out, Harvick will be the driver to watch on Sunday. Expect him to take a very aggressive approach to this race prepared to do whatever's necessary to launch a charge to the front. Realistically, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by this approach. He put it best himself in recent days when he said "the worst that can happen is we finish third in the Chase."

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There are many other factors connected to the Ford 400 that could have an impact on the final resolution of the Chase. While the focal point may be on three drivers, we need to remember that there's going to be 43 starting this race and many of them will have their own team agendas well outside of the Chase profile.

The Homestead-Miami Speedway is the only track on the Sprint Cup circuit that four time champion Jeff Gordon hasn't won at. Then again, his last win dates back to the fall race in Texas last year. Look for Gordon to pull out all the stops to rectify this situation next Sunday.

After an extremely dismal 2009 season, Richard Childress Racing was thrilled to see all three of their cars in the Chase line up this year. However, despite some very strong efforts, Jeff Burton is the only Childress driver who has yet to find victory lane this season. Look for a very aggressive effort from the 31 team on Sunday.

Kurt Busch certainly has a personal agenda connected to the Ford 400. It's his farewell race in Penske Racing's #2 Miller Lite Dodge. Next year Busch will be moving to Penske's #22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge. Considering the legacy of the blue deuce in NASCAR racing, it's a safe bet that Busch would love to exit this ride in victory lane.

However Busch has yet another agenda he have to concentrate on this Sunday. He's currently tenth in the Chase rankings but only five points ahead of Clint Bowyer. Remember, only the top ten gets the coveted stage, and live television, time during next month's Sprint Cup awards banquet in Busch's home town of Las Vegas.

No one should make the mistake of overlooking the Ford contingency this Sunday. Ford holds the Homestead-Miami Speedway's manufacturer's record with six wins. All six of those wins have been delivered by Roush Fenway Racing with driver Greg Biffle serving up a record high three of them. Carl Edwards has found his fire again and looked very strong en route to his win at Phoenix last weekend. Matt Kenseth has been showing some strength recently as well. Kenseth will be making his 400th Sprint Cup career start Sunday and would love to honor that occasion with his first win of the season.

Let's also not forget that anytime a corporation is the official race sponsor as well as having ties to individual race teams then the drivers of those teams has a tendency to work even harder to get a win for their sponsor.

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Since the start of the 2010 season, last February 14th at Daytona, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series has ran 10,244 laps, 13,777 miles featuring 1,505 starters. Now, during the championship weekend, it all comes down to three drivers, 267 laps and one trophy.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

Regarding the 2010 Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship, the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE), seems to believe that Denny Hamlin can accomplish his great American dream by winning his first NASCAR title. They're backing that with 1 to 2 odds. The WSE has Jimmie Johnson ranked at 9 to 5 odds to take his fifth consecutive title. Kevin Harvick has been rated at 10 to 1. These WSE numbers are highly significant in the fact that it's the first time since January that Johnson has not been on top of their list to win the championship.

Regarding their picks for the Ford 400, the WSE has Johnson and Hamlin dead even at 5 to 1 as favorites to win. Carl Edwards is behind them at 6 to 1 followed by Harvick at 7 to 1. At 8 to 1 you will find three time race winner Greg Biffle with Kyle Busch right behind him at 9 to 1. The top of the WSE list closes out this week with two time winner Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon ranked at 15 to 1. Either one of those two drivers could turn out to be a lucrative long shot wager.

Now for the weekly disclaimer: NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers are for informational and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their events.

This is normally where I offer some silly alternative regarding how to spend the left over coins from your weekly budget. I'm not doing that this week. This is Ford championship weekend and every NASCAR fan in the country has the right to get a little wild and crazy.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Ford 400 is 267 laps/400.5 miles around the Homestead-Miami Speedway's 1.5 mile oval.

The race has 45 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. Nine of the entries are on the go or go home list meaning they don't have a guaranteed starting berth because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.

Qualifying day is going to be important because it will establish pre race track position and, of equal importance, determine the order of pit stall selections. The track qualifying record, 181.111 MPH, was set by Jamie McMurray back in November of 2003.

The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race was held at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in November of 1999 and was won by Tony Stewart. Since that time there has been 11 Cup races at the speedway that has sent eight different winners to victory lane.

The Homestead-Miami Speedway has progressive banking in its turns measuring 18,19, and 20 degrees. The two straightaways only has four degrees of banking.

The pit road speed is 45 MPH.

The weather forecast for race day Sunday calls for sunny skies and daytime highs around 76 degrees. Because this is solely a daytime race, track temperatures could be a concern for crew chiefs. Also of concern will be the opening phase of sunset, towards the end of the race, when drivers will have to endure a severe glare on their windshields while going down the front straightaway towards turn one.

The Ford 400 will be broadcast live by the ESPN2 Network with the pre race show beginning at 12 pm eastern time. The race re airs will be Monday morning, 330 am et, also on ESPN2 and again on Wednesday afternoon, 230 pm et, on SPEED.

Nationwide Series Preview

NASCAR's Nationwide Series will be playing a major role in the champion's weekend at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida with Saturday's running of the Ford 300. The 2010 series championship is of course already wrapped up. Brad Keselowski took care of that piece of business last Saturday in Phoenix. However, the series' owner's championship and rookie title are still up for grabs and that resolution could get quite interesting before the race is over.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The big contest in the Ford 300 is going to be centered around the series' owner's points championship. Joe Gibbs, owner of Kyle Busch's #18 Toyota, currently leads those standings by a margin of 41 points over Jodi Geschickter, the owner of record of Brad Keselowski's #22 Penske Racing Dodge.

This points battle became tighter following last Saturday's Phoenix event. Going into that race Joe Gibbs held an 81 point advantage over their season rival. But a cut tire hampered Kyle Busch's race effort and the team had to settle for a 16th place finish. Meanwhile Keselowski had another strong race and brought his car home with a third place finish that cut the Gibbs' lead in half.

In recent years the owner's title has increased in importance to the Nationwide Series teams. Joe Gibbs Racing could be in line to tie a series records by winning three consecutive owner's titles. The last time this feat was accomplished was by former series owner Bill Baumgartner who won consecutive titles from 1995 to 1997. Traditionally, the championship driver usually delivers the owner's title as well. If Kyle Busch can deliver Gibbs another title this Saturday, it will mark the fourth time in series history that the two titles were split among two different teams.

Kyle Busch is the defending race winner from last year and has a very healthy average finish ratio of 11.8 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. However, there's a streak that he will want to bring to a complete halt this Saturday. The last time the 12 race winner visited a Nationwide Series victory lane was back on October 9th at the Auto Club Speedway in California. Since that time Keselowski has won two consecutive races followed by two consecutive wins from the red hot Carl Edwards.

Meanwhile Brad Keselowski has his own agenda for Saturday's Ford 300 that goes well beyond just winning the race. He of course wants to give team captain Roger Penske a second championship within a period of seven days by winning the owner's title. Also, he plans on setting a new series record for the most top five finishes in a single season. The present record, 25, is currently shared by Kyle Busch and 2000 series champion Jeff Green. Keselowski also plans on extending his streak of running at the finish which is currently 101 races.

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Going into the Ford 300 there's only eight points separating the contenders for the Nationwide Series' 2010 Raybestos Rookie of the Year title. The combatants are Ricky Stenhouse Jr, driver of the #6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford and Brian Scott, driver of the #09 RAB Racing Toyota.

Each of these young drivers has endured unexpected distractions during the course of their 2010 racing season. Stenhouse, who is hoping to become the fifth Roush Fenway Racing driver to win the rookie title, is well aware that he's lucky to have this ride. Stenhouse began the season by becoming a model of inconsistency. There were poor finishes and crashes that even began to tax the patience of Jack Roush. When Stenhouse failed to qualify for last summer's Nashville race, Roush benched him for a short while. That was a major wake up call for the young driver. Since that time he's collected two top five finishes, seven top tens and has improved his average finish ratio to 19.9.

Brian Scott also endured his own distractions. He began the season with Braun Racing and was showing a great deal of promise. But late in the year Braun sold his entire Nationwide Series operation to Turner Motorsports and Scott suddenly found himself becoming a free agent without a ride. He made quick work of joining RAB Racing to finish out the season. But there's no need to worry about this talented young driver. He will be joining Joe Gibbs Racing, as a full time Nationwide Series driver, next year. He's going to be just fine.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Ford 300 is 200 laps/300 miles around the Homestead-Miami Speedway's 1.5 mile oval.

The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting positions.

16 of those entries are on the go or go home list. These teams are not guaranteed a start in the race because they are currently outside of the top 30 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on their qualifying speed to earn a starting berth.

14 of the entries are double duty drivers meaning they are entered in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series events.

The Ford 300 is the last ever race for the current Nationwide Series car. The series version of the car of tomorrow will be implemented full time in 2011.

The Ford 300 will be broadcast live by the ESPN2 Network beginning with the pre race show at 4 pm eastern time.

Truck Series Preview - The Final Tailgate Party

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will launch their final high speed tail gate party of the year this Friday night, at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the running of the Ford 200. There are no driver championship implications connected to this race. Todd Bodine, and Germain Racing, took care of the driver's title last weekend at Phoenix. But there are some more series records that could be broken or tied this Friday in Florida. To no real surprise, the name Kyle Busch is attached to them.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

It wasn't that long ago when it appeared that Todd Bodine, and Germain Brothers Racing, was going to take both the driver's and owner's points championships. That feat is actually regarded as a NASCAR tradition. In other words, one title leads to another.

That's not the case regarding the 2010 series' owner's championship. Kyle Busch Motorsports, in its rookie season, can claim that title with a finish of 29th or better at Homestead- Miami. That's largely due to owner/driver Kyle Busch who has won seven races this year despite running a part time schedule. Busch goes into Friday night with a 120 point lead over the Bodine team. He's poised to become the series' first team owner to win this title without winning the driver's championship. He's also looking to become only the second driver in the series to win eight races in one season.

The amazing aspect here is the fact that Busch and company has put a lock on this owner's title within a short period of 20 days. Going into the October 23d race at Martinsville, Bodine held a 39 point lead in the owner's championship and was planning to build on those numbers. That's where Busch hit another one of his famous hot streaks. He finished second at Martinsville, won back to back races at Talladega and Texas and finished second at Phoenix. In a period of 20 days Busch melted Bodine's owner's championship hopes like butter.

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Austin Dillon will be wrapping up the series' Raybestos Brakes Rookie of the Year title Friday night. The driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, for Richard Childress Racing, has enjoyed an amazing rookie season with two wins and six Keystone Light poles. He will be the first to tell you that he owes it all to "Pop Pop." That would be the name he calls his team owner, and more importantly, grandfather Richard Childress.

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The Ford 200 will also have some noteworthy seat assignments Friday night. Elliot Sadler returns to Kevin Harvick Inc's #2 Chevrolet Friday night with new sponsor CitiFinancial on the hood making its debut with the team. Sadler will be spending the 2011 season driving for Kevin Harvick Inc in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, plus some appearances in the truck series, with the backing of the financial institution.

Rick Ware Racing will field three Chevrolet Trucks in Friday night's race. Derek White will make his first start of the season, and third start overall, in the team's #6 truck. In the spirit of maintaining family tradition, Jeffrey Earnhardt, the grandson of Dale Sr, gets another series start in Rick Ware's #47 Chevrolet.

2003 series champion Travis Kvapil will be making his first start of the season in Rick Ware's #16. There appears to be a special reason for Ware entering a third truck in this race. There has been rampant rumors that says Jack Roush, and Roush Fenway Racing, is looking to return to truck racing in 2011 and Kvapil is rumored to be their primary driver. He will of course bring a past champion's provisional option to the table but, to activate that provisional next year, he has to make at least one series start this year.

Keep a sharp eye on the racing fortunes of Cole Whitt Friday night. This outstanding young talent has already garnered a lot of attention in a short amount of time. Whitt will be making his series debut in the #60 Safe Auto Insurance Chevrolet. Whitt made his NASCAR debut last Saturday, in the Nationwide Series at Phoenix, where he scored a very credible 15th place finish.

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Ford 200 is 134 laps/201 miles around the Homestead-Miami Speedway's 1.5 mile oval.

The race has 38 entries vying for the 36 starting positions.

12 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth in the race because they are currently outside of the top 25 in the series' owner's points standings. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.

The defending race winner is Kevin Harvick. But there will be no repeat visit to victory lane. Harvick isn't scheduled to drive in this race.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has ran 14 races at the Homestead-Miami Speedway that has sent 13 different winners to victory lane. Todd Bodine is the only multiple winner there.

The Ford 200 will be broadcast live by the SPEED Channel beginning with the pre race show at 730 pm eastern time.

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