|Kyle Busch won last year's Nationwide race at Homestead. After his recent antics in the truck series, and subsequent fines, will he continue to prop up NASCAR's two failing series again next year, or just focus on Sprint Cup and let them whither away? Without Cup drivers to prop up the Truck and Nationwide series with their big names, the two series would be nothing.|
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be presenting their final tail gate party of the year by closing out their season with Friday night's running of the Ford 200 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Surprising moments from the series' previous race at Texas set up the championship profile we will be watching Friday night. But, true to the series' rich racing history, the Ford 200 is expected to be the latest in a long string of exciting races that will, once again, redefine the term "tail gate party."
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
Austin Dillon, in his black #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, is looking strong to claim the series' championship Friday night. He holds a 20 point lead over Johnny Sauter and a 28 point over James Buescher. Dillon can clinch the championship with a finish of 16th or better Friday night, 17th or better after earning the single bonus point for leading a lap or 18th or better with the bonus point for leading the most laps. If that happens it will be the second series championship for Richard Childress Racing. Mike Skinner won the series' first ever championship for RCR back in 1995.
It was the events of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Texas Motor Speedway that has given Dillon the extra level of breathing room in the points. Four time truck champion Ron Hornaday Jr entered that Texas race 15 points out of first and very much in contention for a fifth title. But an early race altercation, presented during a caution flag by Kyle Busch that is still being debated, found Hornaday 48 points out of first. The moment the green flag falls at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, Hornaday will be officially eliminated as a championship contender. It also means that he will be playing the role of spoiler. This is Hornaday's final race for Kevin Harvick Inc who will be disbanding their truck operation at the end of the year. Hornaday would love to give Kevin and DeLana Harvick one more win Friday night.
It was another surprise element at Texas that placed question marks on James Buescher's championship run. In the final moments of this race, he ran out of fuel. That devastating act dropped him from serious contender to long shot. The big winner of these Texas sized surprises was Sauter who moved to second in the standings.
While Sauter and Buescher are still regarded as legitimate championship contenders Friday night, the reality of it all says they're going to need some help from Dillon to win this title. Some form of unexpected racing luck that will hand him a finish well down the result charts. It is of course possible, but not very likely.
Also of interest are the team mate and team connections involved in this race. For example, Austin Dillon will have his season long team mate Joey Coulter who could possibly, perhaps intentionally, wind up in front of Johnny Sauter's truck sometime during this race. Now add to this mix the presence of the points leader's younger brother, Ty Dillon, who is driving a Chevrolet Truck that is actually owned by DeLana Harvick.
Then there's the potential of the Childress/Harvick connection. The racing connection is obvious: we all know that Kevin Harvick is the driver of Richard Childress Racing's NASCAR Sprint Cup team. There's also a business connection here: Childress recently purchased the assets of Kevin Harvick Inc's Nationwide Series operation.
What's that got to do with Friday night's truck race? First off Kevin Harvick is entered in this race in one of his self owned trucks and might be inclined to help Dillon if needed. The same could apply to KHI regular season drivers Ron Hornaday Jr and Nelson Piquet Jr. It could also apply to Elliott Sadler, Harvick's Nationwide Series driver who moves to Childress Racing next year. Sadler just happens to be entered in Friday night's truck race and will drive for Joe Denette Motorsports.
Thor Sport, the owner of Johnny Sauter's ride, has suddenly expanded from two to four trucks for this final race of the season. There is of course the standard appearance of Matt Crafton, Sauter's season long team mate. They will be joined Friday night by multi time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel and Dakoda Armstrong.
You also have to consider the presence of potential race spoilers: those drivers, without championship involvement, who will be there just to win the race. First off, the series' ultimate spoiler and defending race champion Kyle Busch will not be in this race. But his #18 Toyota Truck will be with Denny Hamlin sitting behind the wheel.
It might be interesting to keep an eye on Todd Bodine during the race. The driver of the #5 Randy Moss Motorsports/Germain Racing Toyota will be looking to keep a personal streak alive. Bodine has won at least one truck series race per year since the 2006 season. But he's still looking for that first win of 2011 and Friday night is his last chance to keep that win streak going. The Homestead-Miami Speedway is a good venue for him: he's a two time race winner there. "The Onion" may be coming on a little strong Friday night.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Ford 200 is 134 laps/201 miles around the Homestead-Miami Speedway's 1.5. mile oval.
The race has 42 entries vying for the 36 starting positions. A whopping 17 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning these teams are outside of the top 25 in the series' owner points standings and are not automatically guaranteed a starting berth. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.
The Ford 200 will be broadcast live on the SPEED Channel with the pre race "Set Up" show beginning at 730 pm eastern time.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series will be a part of the three day champion's weekend, at the Florida based Homestead-Miami Speedway, with Saturday's running of the Ford 300. The series' championship points standings appears to be in a lock down mode. However the Owner's Points title and Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors are still very much up for grabs.
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
Ricky Stenhouse Jr is in good shape to wrap up the 2011 Nationwide Series championship this Saturday for Roush Fenway Racing. He goes into Saturday's race with a healthy lead of 41 points over Elliott Sadler. Stenhouse can officially clinch his first NASCAR national championship with a 37th place finish or better in the Ford 300. He can also clinch the title with a 38th place finish with the single bonus point for leading a lap or 39th after the bonus point for leading the most laps in the race.
Sadler's championship hopes literally hit the wall last weekend at Phoenix following a late race accident. His only hope for delivering the title to his team, Kevin Harvick Inc, is an unforeseen miracle involving Stenhouse's car.
It's a completely different story with the Nationwide Series’ coveted Owner's Championship. Joe Gibbs Racing, (JGR), and their #18 team, leads the standings going into Saturday's season finale but it's only have a one point lead over the #60 Ford from Roush Fenway Racing, (RFR).
The Gibbs team can clinch the owner's title outright with a win on Saturday. The Roush team needs to gain one or more points on Gibbs for them to wrap up the title. If they can make that happen it will mark RFR's fourth, consecutive, owner's title which will also be a new series record.
With this championship battle so close, there's also the possibility of a tie between the two teams at the end of the race. Both teams have eight wins this year. That means the tie breaker will be second place finishes. RFR has nine runner up finishes to JGR's five and that means Roush Fenway will win the title.
Carl Edwards is the RFR driver who has created these very impressive stats. He's a previous race winner at Homestead-Miami after winning the 2008 event. Edwards also has a lengthy list of strong runs that has created an impressive average finish ratio of 5.7 at the track.
The JGR stats were created by Kyle Busch who won the 2009 and 2010 races at Homestead-Miami. Busch will not be in the #18 Toyota this Saturday and will be replaced by fellow JGR Cup driver Denny Hamlin. This move was reportedly at the request of the team's primary sponsor, Z Line Designs, and was another side effect from Busch's questionable on track behavior during a NASCAR Truck Series race at Texas. Hamlin has driven in Nationwide Series events in the past at Homestead-Miami and has a 13.2 average finish ratio.
Also way too close to call is the Nationwide Series' Sunoco Rookie of the Year title. Ryan Truex leads the rookie standings with 188 points but it's only three points ahead of Timmy Hill and Blake Koch who are tied for second. The really interesting aspect here is the fact that Truex is not entered in Saturday's race and that provides Hill and Koch the opportunity to settle the rookie title between themselves. However, let's not overlook the possibility that unforeseen circumstances involving these two drivers could actually give the rookie title to the absent Truex.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Ford 300 is 200 laps/300 miles around the Homestead-Miami Speedway's 1.5 mile oval.
The race has 48 entries vying for the 43 starting positions. 19 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed an automatic starting position because they are currently outside of the Nationwide Series' top 30 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to earn a berth in the race. The lone exception here is Joe Nemechek who can use a past champion's provisional to make the race.
The Ford 300 will be broadcast live by the ESPN2 Network with the pre race show beginning at 4 pm eastern time.