|Stewart, Kenseth and Edwards last weekend at Phoenix|
Despite the excitement, and potential high level of drama, associated with Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, the conclusion of the 2011 Chase For The Sprint Cup Championship will actually become a case of 1-2-3. That formula breaks down to one race, two drivers and the three points separating them as we head into championship weekend and the Ford 400.THE STORY BREAKDOWN
Carl Edwards' three point lead over Tony Stewart translates into a 13 point lead under the previous points system formerly used by NASCAR. That's the closest margin between first and second going into a final race in Sprint Cup history and the third closest since the position based points system was created back in 1975.
Since 1975 only three drivers have made up a points deficit during the final race of the season to win a championship. In 1979 Richard Petty made up two points to take the championship from Darrell Waltrip. In 1992 unexpected circumstances allowed Alan Kulwicki to eradicate a 30 point advantage held by Davey Allison. The most recent case was last year when Jimmie Johnson made up 15 points during the final race to take the title from Denny Hamlin.
There's only one way that Carl Edwards can automatically clinch his first ever NASCAR Sprint Cup championship this Sunday: park his Roush Fenway Ford in the Homestead-Miami victory lane this Sunday. That will give him the title no matter what performance levels Tony Stewart rises to. That's a very possible scenario. Edwards has two wins at this track and a very good set of numbers there. So does Roush Fenway Racing and their high powered Roush Yates Engines.
Stewart, seeking his third NASCAR championship, is also a two time race winner and knows the fast way around this race track. Stewart will also be looking for a win on Sunday plus the max points available for some padding. For example, if Stewart wins the race and Edwards finishes second then Stewart would win the title based on three bonus points for the win and another bonus point for leading a lap. Under this particular scenario, Stewart would take the title by a mere two points. That's his best possible championship scenario. If neither driver wins the race, then Stewart will need to finish at least four positions ahead of Edwards and that will not be easy. Even then, single bonus points for leading a lap and most laps led could also become a concluding factor.
Let's not overlook the fact that Stewart has been on a hot streak scoring four wins since the Chase began back in September. In the last three races alone he has two wins and a third place finish. If the two championship contenders winds up tied at the end of the race, and that is very possible, then Stewart would win the title based on the best finishes, a tie breaker system used by NASCAR.
The ESPN Network has made sure that the fans are going to get to witness every aspect of the championship run between these two drivers. Their live coverage of Sunday's Ford 400 will be viewed by 72 cameras. Two of the cameras will be placed high above the speedway with the sole purpose of following the cars of Edwards and Stewart around the track. There will also be in car cameras in both race cars and two cameras mounted on the ceiling of their respective garage stalls to monitor all activities before and during the race. ESPN has also assigned pit reporters, and a camera crew, to cover all activities of these drivers from Friday morning to Sunday evening. Reporter Shannon Spake will be covering Edwards and his team while Marty Smith will be shadowing Tony Stewart and company. All of this means that we're going to witness the Chase conclusion for a very comprehensive perspective.
Also viewing the Chase excitement will be two very special guests. That will be the official Grand Marshalls of the race: First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr Jill Biden, the wife of the Vice President, who will be on hand to support the Joining Forces Initiative. Mrs. Obama and Dr Biden will recognize members of the armed forces and military families from the local community during the pre race ceremonies. They will also make an appearance at a special BBQ lunch on behalf of the Initiative.
THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN
To get an insightful profile regarding who's going to win the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship, let's take a look at the work of the professional number crunchers from "The Las Vegas Insider," (LVI).
To no real surprise, the LVI has series points leader Carl Edwards on top of their favorite list and they're backing that opinion with 5 to 2 odds. There's a really good reason for that decision: Edwards has outstanding numbers at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. In seven starts there he has two wins, including the 2010 race, along with four top five finishes and six top ten finishes along with an excellent average finish ratio, (AFR), of 5.7. Also bear in mind that Edwards drives a Ford from Roush Fenway Racing, an organization who also has an outstanding record at this track.
At 7 to 2 is the other half of the title run. Tony Stewart is also a two time winner at this speedway and, in 12 starts, has compiled three top fives, six top tens and an AFR of 12.4. Like Edwards, he also has strong car support in the from of chassis and engines from Hendrick Motorsports.
At 7 to 1 is previous race winner Matt Kenseth who also has two top fives, four top tens with an 18.8 AFR. Kenseth will actually make a solid wager consideration for Sunday. He's another member of the Roush Fenway Ford group.
Another driver who could possibly play the role of spoiler in this race could be Jimmie Johnson who's ranked at 8 to 1. He's still looking for his first Homestead-Miami win, but he does have four top fives, seven top tens and a 11.6 AFR.
Kyle Busch is ranked at 9 to 1 and the line of thinking here could be twofold: he wants to eradicate that winless Chase streak, 0 for 48, and a win might appease some of the drama this driver has put himself through since the Truck Series race at Texas. However, his Homestead-Miami numbers doesn't support the theory. In six starts he only has one top ten and a whopping 26.3 AFR.
The LVI has the tandem of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon ranked at 10 to 1 for Sunday. Harvick is seeking his first win at this speedway but does have five top fives and a healthy 7.9 AFR. Gordon is also winless at Homestead-Miami but also has five top fives with an 11.9 AFR.
Looking at the LVI's middle tier, the quartet of Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin. Kahne is riding the momentum of last Sunday's win at Phoenix and will be seeking his first win at Homestead-Miami. Busch and Hamlin are previous race winners with AFR's of 19.4 and 11.2 respectively.
The one driver that stands out, in the 18 to 1 group, is Biffle. He's a three time race winner with a respectable 13.1 AFR. Biffle is also one of the Roush Fenway Ford drivers. He could turn out to be a worthy long shot wager consideration.
Bad Brad Keselowski is rated at 22 to 1 for Sunday's race while the trio of Dale Earnhardt Jr, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer are rated at 28 to 1.
In the LVI's lower tier rankings, Martin Truex Jr is ranked at 30 to 1 while the quartet of David Ragan, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano and Mark Martin are rated at 35 to 1. Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Burton are ranked at 40 to 1 while David Reutimann and Brian Vickers are at 50 to 1.
Concluding the list are Richard Petty Motorsports team mates A J Allmendinger and Marcus Ambrose, along with Paul Menard, who are ranked at 75 to 1. Trevor Bayne and Regan Smith close the list at 150 and 200 to 1. Any driver not on the list is automatically rated by the LVI at 75 to 1 odds.
Now for the disclaimer. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these posted numbers are for entertainment and information purposes. They neither encourage or condone the placing of wagers on their events. But for you rebels with a cause, who are going to bet anyway isn't it nice to know that you have the latest information from the experts at "The Las Vegas Insider?"
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 48 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 13 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in Owner's Points. These teams will have to make the race based on their qualifying speeds.
The Homestead-Miami Speedway opened in 1995. The first NASCAR Sprint Cup event was held there in November of 1999 and was won by Tony Stewart. Since that time there has been 12 Sprint Cup races at the speedway that has sent eight different winners to victory lane. Greg Biffle has a series high three wins there. Carl Edwards is the defending race champion. Roush Fenway Racing tops the team win category with seven.
The track qualifying record, 181.111 MPH, was set by Jamie McMurray back in November of 2003. Only two drivers have won a Homestead-Miami race from the pole position: Bill Elliott-2001 and Kurt Busch-2002. Nine of the 12 Cup races have been won from starting positions within the top ten.
From the 2006 to the 2010 racing seasons, a typical event at this speedway averaged 19.0 lead changes, 8.4 caution flags for 35.6 laps with the average green flag run being 24.7 laps.
The Homestead-Miami Speedway's original configuration was a four turn, rectangular shaped, oval based on the layout of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The speedway underwent a configuration, to its present shape, at the end of the 2002 season. The four turns have progressive banking of 18-19 and 20 degrees. The two straight aways measure 1,760 feet long by 50 feet wide and are banked at four degrees. The pit road speed is 45 MPH. The speedway presently has seating for 65,000 fans.
The weather for the NASCAR championship weekend calls for variable high clouds with a slight, 20%, chance of showers with daytime highs in the low 80's.
The Ford 400 will be broadcast live by ESPN with the "Countdown" show beginning at 3 pm eastern time. The race rebroadcasts will be Monday morning, 1 am et, on ESPN2 and on Wednesday, 12 pm et, on SPEED.