Mash The Gas: Homestead Final Four Preview

Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano lead the field past the green flag to start the 2015 Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. [Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images]

Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano lead the field past the green flag to start the 2015 Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. [Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

It’s finally here as a whole season’s worth of hard work, dedication, and a little bit of luck culminates with the crowning of the 2016 Sprint Cup champion 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. 20
2:30 p.m. ET
NBC, 2 p.m. ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
The Homestead-Miami Speedway is a 1.5 mile oval that is similar to a majority of the circuits the series visits with the notable exception of progressive banking which opens up multiple lanes for racing.

Four drivers have persevered through the 2016 Chase to earn the opportunity to race for the Sprint Cup on Sunday and each comes into the season ending event with a compelling story of why they should be the champion. Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch will battle for the championship in the Ford EcoBoost 400 and here are our thoughts and predictions on each of the combatants…

Jimmie Johnson (Dan Margetta)
The record tying seventh championship has loomed on Jimmie Johnson’s horizon for three years and now he and the #48 team finally have a chance to actually make it happen. Johnson has been very strong on the 1.5 mile speedways this season, having won at Atlanta and Charlotte, and he has led many laps in the events he fell short of the victory. This team’s strength has always been preparation and crew chief Chad Knaus told the media earlier in the week they had a brand new race car and a proven piece to choose from and they had not yet made a decision on which car to bring. Don’t let them fool you, this team will bring the absolute best car they have and Johnson will drive it to its limits. One aspect to not winning however is Johnson has never won at Homestead but on the other hand he has always had a point cushion to fall back on. He will have to race hard all day to win the title this year and I think with his experience, the crew’s preparation, and the motivation of being elevated to NASCAR’s version of Mount Rushmore with the seventh championship make Jimmie Johnson this year’s Sprint Cup champion.

Jimmie Johnson (John Wiedemann)
It’s been a bit of a drought. Jimmie Johnson won his sixth Sprint Cup Series Championship in 2013. The modified format of the Chase the next season to the elimination format left Johnson out of contention the next two years. Now, three years later, he is back looking for that special seventh championship which would put his name up there with those of Petty and Earnhardt. This weekend will be the toughest challenge to win a championship that Johnson has been involved in, four drivers are tied and the top finisher wins. If Johnson wins the Championship this weekend he will have won seven in eleven seasons. That type of accomplishment puts his team on par with almost any championship team in all of sports. And for those who say that the Chase is designed for Johnson, he will have won in every rules format that the Chase has had. NASCAR makes the rules and the #48 team figures out how to win. Those that do not respect the accomplishments of this team are missing out on something special in NASCAR and sports in general. For that fact, I am rooting for Johnson to win it all this weekend.

(L-R) Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch talk to the media about the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. [Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images]

(L-R) Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch talk to the media about the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. [Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images]

Carl Edwards (DM)
I was at Homestead in 2011 when Carl Edwards lost the championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker and I will never forget the look of bewilderment on his face while standing in the media center watching Stewart receive the accolades. He did everything right that night and didn’t even get beat yet he still lost and now he has waited five long years to have another shot at the championship. That has got to motivate Edwards this time around along with the fact that he is the best statistically at Homestead among the four championship contenders (Two wins and a 9.2 average finishing position). Edwards also won the last race held on a 1.5 mile circuit two weeks ago at Texas but overall in this year’s Chase he has the lowest average finishing position of the remaining contenders. I think that 2011 championship loss in a tie breaker pushes Carl Edwards to really contend this year. Word on the street is the team is bringing a brand new race car for this race and I look for Edwards to be a strong contender this year and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him hoisting the trophy at the end of the night.

Carl Edwards (JW)
Looking down and out after tire issues at Martinsville put him behind the wall and finishing 36th, Carl Edwards gambled at Texas and made the field pay by taking the victory and securing a spot for himself in the final this weekend. Edwards has had a solid season with three victories, back to back at Bristol and Richmond early in the season to go along with the Texas win, and has led in 16 of the 35 races so far. The Chase hasn’t been all that spectacular for Edwards, excluding the Texas win he has only two other top ten finishes and averaged a 15th place finish in the nine races so far. So, can he win the whole thing? Yes, Edwards has been in this position before battling Tony Stewart for the 2011 Championship and basically needing the win at Texas to make it to the final four this year. The tire combination run at Texas will be the same they run this weekend, so Edwards could make them work again as he looks for his first Sprint Cup Championship.

Kyle Busch (DM)
The defending Sprint Cup champion has the best average finishing position during the Chase of the four championship combatants and Kyle Busch was already in do or die mode last week when he charged late to claim his spot in the finale. The winner take all format of the championship race suits his aggressive style well and it’s no secret the #18 team has been up front in just about every Chase race this season. What is concerning however is their inability to secure victories as it has now been fifteen races since Busch has visited victory lane. Winning the Sprint Cup will more likely than not come down to winning the Homestead race and Busch and the #18 team will have to close the deal if they want to repeat as champions. It is believed the team will bring a brand new car to compete at Homestead and Busch’s past experience in winning in this format could pay dividends on Sunday. You never count out Kyle Busch in a shoot out but I think he will have his work cut out for him this time around. If Kyle Busch repeats as Sprint Cup champion, he definitely will have earned it.

Kyle Busch (JW)
The defending Sprint Cup Champion is back and ready to defend. Kyle Busch won this race last season to capture his first Sprint Cup and is ready to do so again. This season was a solid one for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver as he spent a lot of time battling his teammates at the front of the pack. Busch racked up four wins this season (tied for the most) and, with one race to go, leads the series in top five finishes with 17. But, it will probably come down to a win in the race this weekend to win the Championship. Busch has proved he can do that, as he did last year, and I have no doubt he can do it again. My prediction is that it will be Busch and Joey Logano battling for the win at the finish line and you can see who I think gets to the line first by reading a little bit further.

Joey Logano (DM)
Joey Logano is the contender who could fly a bit under the radar and swoop in and win this championship. Already in this Chase he has won two of the three elimination races and in the last three years he has a series leading seven Chase race victories. Logano also was a strong second two weeks ago at Texas and in three of the last four races held on 1.5 mile circuits he has finished in the top three. Plus, Joey Logano has been in the Chase finale before, having fell short two years ago when a poor late race pit stop derailed his title chances. He along with the #22 team is more experienced this time around and they shouldn’t make the same mistakes as they did in 2014. The team is bringing a proven race car that has won in the past to Homestead and they should be well prepared to do battle. While much of the focus is on the other three contenders, Joey Logano could be the one they are all chasing as the checkered flag falls on Sunday.

Joey Logano (JW)
My pick to win it all is Joey Logano. Logano is on a hot streak, coming in as the latest victor in the Chase format and was in contention at Texas as well. Logano’s run at Texas was the one that convinced me that he would be the favorite, should he make it to the final four in Homestead. Making the final four with a victory at Phoenix solidified the pick for me. Logano has yet to win at Homestead and has the worst driver rating among the final four drivers, but this season hasn’t just been about statistics. Streaks have been the biggest factor this year and Logano is on a hot streak. There are other reasons not to pick Logano as the champions, how about the fact that he has yet to win on a mile and a half track this season? Logano’s wins have come at Michigan, Talladega and Phoenix this season. But overall, Logano has had a better average finish than his three competitors and has finished in the top ten more than them also. This is not the same Logano that was bullied by Kevin Harvick years ago, he is ready to be the Sprint Cup Champion.

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