Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

A look at the three NASCAR Sprint Cup contenders heading into the finale

In the seventh season of the Chase for the Championship, NASCAR finally has what the season-ending format was intended to create: an incredibly tight three-way fight in the finale. Heading into Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a look at the tale of the tape for the three championship contenders:

Denny Hamlin

. First, 6,462 points

. No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Ford

Last weekend at Phoenix, Hamlin might have been the unhappiest 12th-place finisher NASCAR has seen all season. It's hard to blame him after poor fuel consumption knocked him out of contention in a race he dominated. Now the question is, can he and crew chief Mike Ford, who has suddenly been the center of attention the past two weeks, shake it off and refocus on bringing home a first Sprint Cup title? It'd be a fine belated present for Hamlin, who turned 30 on Thursday.

The good: Hamlin took home the Homestead win last year after starting 38th. He's the only title contender who has won on the 1.5-mile oval, and as the leader, he's the only one who controls his destiny. A repeat win clinches the crown, as does a runnerup finish if he leads the most laps.

The bad: His poor finishes have tended to come in bunches this season. He started the year with five straight finishes out of the top 15, then had a midseason stretch of five straight outside the top five, and before the Chase he was outside the top 30 in three of four races before a win at Richmond.

Quotable: Hamlin on Jimmie Johnson, who has suggested all week that all the pressure is on the series leader: "If he keeps bringing up my name, he's pretty much worried about me. That's all I'll say."

Jimmie Johnson

. Second, 6,447 points (15 back)

. No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

The four-time defending series champion goes into this finale in an usual position: second place. Last year he led by 108 points coming into Homestead; in 2008 he led by 141; in 2007 his margin was 86, and in 2006 he was up 63. In other words, he usually comes to South Florida just needing to stay out of everybody else's wrecks. Now he'll likely need to take some chances if he wants to extend his own record for consecutive championships at NASCAR's top level.

The good: Perhaps having Jeff Gordon's pit crew will bring some Homestead magic — Gordon leads the series with five top-five and nine top-10 finishes at the track. After making that swap, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus got a top-five finish at Phoenix after a fuel gamble.

The bad: Though he qualified well Friday, this is not the place where Johnson would most prefer to need a big result. Yes, he has a second and a third in nine starts at Homestead, but he has led just 71 laps, and his average finish of 12.7 is his second-worst at a Chase for the Championship track.

Quotable: Johnson, perhaps trying to keep up the mind games he has tried to play with Hamlin this week, said he slept "great" Thursday night despite the pressure of the championship. Johnson then added: "I don't know if Denny did, but I know I did."

Kevin Harvick

. Third, 6,416 points (46 back)

. No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet

Harvick has reached this position more with consistency than dominance. He has three wins this season; a fine output but far behind Hamlin (eight wins) and Johnson (six). And Harvick is 11th in laps led with 357, again far behind leader Johnson (1,314) and No. 3 Hamlin (1,184). So how did Harvick lead the points for much of the season and stay in the hunt during the Chase? With 15 top-five finishes (second only to Johnson's 16) and a series-high 25 top-10s.

The good: His nine races at Homestead have been consistently good, with seven top-10s leading to an average finish of 8.4, his best of any track and best among the title contenders. He was third in the Ford 400 last year and has been second twice at Homestead, including 2008.

The bad: About that whole consistency thing? It's nice in getting Harvick to this point. But now he needs to charge. Unless something happens to his rivals, Harvick likely needs to win and probably lead the most laps. Even then, Hamlin can take the title by finishing sixth, or even seventh if he leads a lap.

Quotable: "There's really nothing else that matters at this point. Just throw it all out there, and if it gets rough, it gets rough. If it doesn't, then we just go race and see where it all falls in the end. It's still a no-pressure, no-lose situation for us, and I like it."

Sprint Cup points

With one race to go. Only the top three drivers are still mathematically eligible in the Chase for the Championship.

Driver Pts. Back

Denny Hamlin 6,462—

Jimmie Johnson 6,447 15

Kevin Harvick 6,416 46

Carl Edwards 6,198 264

Matt Kenseth 6,151 311

Jeff Gordon 6,124 338

Kyle Busch 6,115 347

Greg Biffle 6,113 349

Tony Stewart 6,074 388

Kurt Busch 6,033 429

Clint Bowyer 6,028 434

Jeff Burton 5,958 504

Up next: Season finale

Ford 400, 1 p.m. Sunday, Homestead-Miami Speedway TV: ESPN

A look at the three NASCAR Sprint Cup contenders heading into the finale 11/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 19, 2010 9:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Dirk Koetter sounds Bucs alarm: 'They're the players that we have'

    Blogs

    The other day, Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith was asked about the lack of production and pressure from the defensive line, especially off the edge.

    Then it happened.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (28) takes the field for the start of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the New England Patriots on October 5, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
  2. Superiority complex: USF continues to battle schedule, expectations

    College

    Does USF deserve its No. 16 national ranking? Coach Charlie Strong says there's no doubt. He expects that his Bulls can match up with any Division I-A program. (Octavio Jones, Times)
  3. Rick and Tom podcast: Who will be the Bucs' QB on Sunday?

    Blogs

    Who the Bucs' quarterback will be Sunday against the Bills became clear as mud as Jameis Winston hasn't thrown all week but will take all the practice reps today.

    Will Ryan Fitzpatrick start for the Bucs Sunday in Buffalo?
  4. College football viewing guide, Week 8

    College

    Miami quarterback Malik Rosier (12) hands off to running back Travis Homer (24) during the first half of an NCAA College football game against Georgia Tech, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
  5. Little separates McElwain and Muschamp eras of futility at Florida

    College

     Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain watches the second quarter of the Florida Gators game against Texas A&M, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville.