Mash The Gas: Homestead-Miami NASCAR Championship Preview

Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch lead the field past the green flag to start the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. [Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR]

Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch lead the field past the green flag to start the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. [Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR]

By Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The curtain comes down on the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup season and the Sprint Cup Champion will be crowned following the Ford EcoBoost 400 Sunday afternoon at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Ford EcoBoost 400
Homestead-Miami Speedway
400.5 miles (267 laps)
Sunday, Nov. 22 3 pm ET
NBC, 2 p.m. (ET)
MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
After a wild and crazy three rounds of this year’s edition of the Chase we have reached the end with Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. surviving to battle it out for the Sprint Cup. All four drivers make a compelling case as to why they should be the Sprint Cup champion and on top of all that, Sunday marks the final ride for Gordon as his legendary on-track career comes to a close.

The Homestead-Miami Speedway is a unique 1.5 mile track that features progressive banking which opens up multiple racing grooves and provides options for the drivers to make passes and race side by side.

The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion will be crowned on Sunday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and what follows is our analysis of the final four Chase contenders.…

Jeff Gordon (Dan Margetta)
Since bursting on the scene in the final race of 1992, Jeff Gordon has achieved legendary status with his career that winds down on Sunday and all eyes in the sports world will be watching to see if he can capitalize on his opportunity to go out with his fifth series championship. Gordon’s 93 career wins place him third on the all-time list behind Hall of Famers Richard Petty and David Pearson and no driver has come close to the lengths he has brought NASCAR to mainstream America off the track so there is a lot of interest in his title quest in his final race. His Homestead record features twelve top ten finishes in his sixteen starts here and he finally captured an elusive victory in 2012. This season however, Gordon’s on-track performance has lagged behind the other three title contenders and he’ll have to rely on determination and the fact there is no tomorrow to close the gap to the others. At times this season, bad luck or a poorly timed pit call cost Gordon and the #24 team a shot at victory and if not for Matt Kenseth’s knock out of Joey Logano at Martinsville, Gordon may not have even had this opportunity. If Jeff Gordon pulls off his fifth championship in his final race it will be an outstanding story and the team is plenty capable of competing if they can remain focused and avoid miscues. There’s no doubt this team will be ready and pumped up, but I just think they have their work cut out for them. I have them finishing fourth.

Jeff Gordon (John Wiedemann)
It’s a “Cinderella story”, well not really, but it could be a great story. Jeff Gordon has won four championships and has been on the “Drive for Five” ever since his last championship win in 2001. 2002 was the year Jimmie Johnson came into the Cup Series and was given all of Gordon’s cars. Since that time Johnson has won six championships while Gordon won zero. But, Gordon is back now to finally capture that elusive fifth championship in the final race of his Sprint Cup Series career. In sixteen races at Homestead-Miami Gordon has one victory (2012) and one pole (last season). Gordon has run well at the track, posting an average finish of 10.6 and grabbing twelve top ten and seven top five finishes. Those are great stats until you put them up against his competitors for the championship. Only Kyle Busch has a lower driver rating or average finish at Homestead. Statistically this season Gordon is on the bottom of the four drivers who have a shot for the Cup. The good news is that Gordon and his teammates have won the last three races on the schedule. This is it for Gordon, he can put it all on the line and lay the bumper to anyone, they won’t be able to retaliate. What a story for Gordon and for NASCAR if he can end his illustrious career with a fifth championship win. But, my pick… fourth as well.

Kevin Harvick (DM)
Kevin Harvick, the defending Sprint Cup champion, has been consistently the strongest driver all season long. However, many times this year those strong dominating runs where Harvick led more laps than anyone else have ended without a victory. In each round of the Chase, Harvick has squeaked by, winning in walk-off fashion at Dover and triggering a race ending wreck at Talladega before surviving the rain in Phoenix after a wreck during green flag pit stops nearly ruined another dominating day. Harvick’s win last year in this race was his first at Homestead and he owns the best average finishing position among the remaining Chasers. He’s also the only one of the finalists with experience racing for the championship under this format as he won the race and the title in 2014. On paper, Kevin Harvick looks to be the favorite to win back to back titles but I keep wondering if he has used up his luck in the earlier Chase rounds. Twice he has dealt with transmission issues at Talladega and Texas that should have knocked him out (the team has since changed transmission brands). Plus, he has rubbed many of the other competitors the wrong way on his journey to the final four and while I don’t see anyone deliberately wrecking him out of the race, I do think there are some drivers on the track that will make him work for everything gets in getting around them. If Kevin Harvick has a mistake free day he will repeat as Sprint Cup champion but I think the law of averages may catch up with him on Sunday and I have him finishing third.

Kevin Harvick (JW)
What a season this has been for the defending Sprint Cup Series Champion. Clearly the fastest driver in most of the races this season, Harvick has rolled off three wins, one pole and has an average start and finish of right around eighth place. Throw in twelve runner-up finishes and a total of 22 top five and 27 top ten runs in 35 races and you can see why Harvick is in the mix again for the Championship. After wrecking with Jimmie Johnson at Chicagoland to start the Chase, Harvick dominated the Dover race leading 355 of 400 laps to move to the next round. Then, in the final race of round two, Harvick did what he needed to do to move on even though his move wrecked half of the field in the final lap at Talladega. Finishes of eighth, third and second in the third round got Harvick to the Championship round, looking for his second Sprint Cup trophy. Homestead is a great track for Harvick where he leads the Series with an average finish of 7.6 in 14 race and has a top ten streak, including last season’s victory, going back to 2008. Harvick will be quick once again at Homestead and I am predicting a victory in the race which will give him the Championship.

Martin Truex Jr. (DM)
This year’s long shot at the championship is Martin Truex Jr. and the #78 team, a single car operation based in Denver, Colorado and it has been fun watching this organization progress all the way to become Sprint Cup title contenders. What many people are overlooking is that Homestead is arguably Martin Truex Jr.’s best track on the circuit and while he has yet to win here, he does have seven top ten finishes in ten starts with a best result of second. Labeled a 60-1 shot at the championship when the season began, the hard part for this team was just getting here so they really have nothing to lose and should be able to swing for the fences on Sunday. Cole Pearn has been a gem of a find at crew chief and the chemistry between himself and Truex has been solid all season long and I can see them really enjoying this run at the title to “shock the world.” I think Martin Truex Jr. and the #78 will give it a good run and I have them coming up just short in second place.

Martin Truex Jr. (JW)
This has been a great season for Martin Truex Jr. Starting off the season with seven top ten finishes and continuing with 15 in the first 16 races put Truex in the mix at the top of the standings where he stayed all year long. Truex captured his first win with Furniture Row Racing at Pocono in June and now has the team on the verge of its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. So, can he do it? Truex has the top driver rating at Homestead amongst the drivers battling for the Championship. He also has the second best average running position (9th) and second best average finish (10th), although the average finish stat is second behind championship contender Kevin Harvick. Truex’s best finish at Homestead was 2nd back in 2006. In ten races at the track, he has finished outside of the top ten only three times. So again, can he do it? I don’t think so. Although, it would not surprise me if he did. I’m picking Truex to finish third overall.

Kyle Busch (DM)
When you first look at Kyle Busch’s record at Homestead, you would probably write him off immediately as he has only three top ten finishes in ten races and has an average finish of 23.1. However, this hasn’t been a typical Kyle Busch season and the guy many argue has the best raw driving talent in the garage has a shot at his first championship. A season that started with devastating injuries at Daytona could finish with the Sprint Cup championship and since Busch’s return to the seat he has been incredibly focused and has avoided the self-destruction that had plagued him in the past. Teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin have been very good at Homestead so I’m sure their input will figure heavily into Busch’s title run on Sunday. After winning four out of five races earlier in the year to qualify for the Chase , Busch has strung together some very strong runs in the Chase and if you throw out an 11th place finish at the wildcard Talladega race, this team hasn’t finished outside the top five since Charlotte, a little over a month ago. Kyle Busch is probably the best driver on the circuit without a championship and I think he capitalizes on his first shot at the crown. I’m taking Kyle Busch to win the 2015 Sprint Cup Championship.

Kyle Busch (JW)
There are some people who don’t believe Kyle Busch should be in the Chase at all. I am not one of those. When you look at his accomplishments this season following his injuries in the Xfinity race crash at Daytona, there is no one that deserves to be battling for the championship more than Kyle Busch. In fact, the Kyle Busch story this season is probably the only thing that makes me like the Chase. Yes, I am one of those “old school” championship guys. Four wins this season, three in a row, and an average finish of 11th in 24 races has Busch ready to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. Three finishes in the top five in the last three races show that Busch is on top of his game and a favorite to win the Championship. Busch’s Homestead stats are the only thing that makes one wonder if he can get it done. I would ignore some of those because there was nothing on the line and the Kyle Busch back then is not the Kyle Busch of now. I predict a battle to the finish and Busch finishing second to Harvick. I think this race will be just as tight as last season and really, would not be shocked by either of the four winning the race and the championship.

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