NASCAR Cup Series Championship: Homestead Preview

NASCAR Cup Series Championship: Homestead Preview

In a sport loaded with young talent, four grizzled veterans will battle for the NASCAR Cup Series Championship on Sunday at Homestead. A grueling eight-month schedule comes down to 400.5 miles or 267 circuits around the mile and a half oval just outside of Miami. Left standing: three former Cup champions Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski. Fourth, the driver who has dominated this season with seven wins and 18 top fives, Martin Truex Jr. With the highest-finisher-take-all scenario, all bets are off. Regardless, we’ll take a look at each team’s outlook on a title come Sunday.

Kyle Busch

#18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

2015 Cup Champion Kyle Busch will look to add to his extensive trophy case Sunday. His lone win at Homestead came in the 2015 championship race. In 12 career starts at Homestead, Busch has five top fives but also has an average finish of 19.8. In recent years, Busch has experienced success on the mile and a half raceway finishing seventh or better in four of the past five races at Homestead. Over the past five seasons, Busch has excelled at intermediate speedways finishing over two thirds in the top ten over that span. The Joe Gibbs #18 team will need to build upon that success this weekend if Busch hopes to lift his second Cup title.

Here’s how Busch earned his trip to Miami:


Kevin Harvick

#4 Stewart-Hass Racing Ford

What a tale that would be. In Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final race, the man who presumed his father’s ride wins the title almost eighteen years later. Out of the Championship Four, Harvick easily has had the most success at Homestead. In 16 races at the mile and a half, Harvick has finished in the top ten fourteen times including winning the race and championship in 2014. Since joining Stewart-Hass Racing, Harvick has never finished worse than third at Homestead. At intermediate speedways this season, Harvick has only finished outside of the top ten three time out of 17 races. Based on previous Homestead results, they have to be the favorites heading into the weekend.

Harvick sums it up after punching his ticket to Championship Weekend:


Brad Keselowski

#2 Penske Racing Ford

Keselowski took home the Cup in 2012; however, that was before the current playoff format was put into place. Since 2013, Keselowski has finished sixth, third, third, and thirty-fifth at Homestead, respectively. At intermediate raceways this season the #2 Penske Ford finished in the top five six times and notched a victory at Atlanta. In a mix full of wild-cards, Keselowski is as capable as any at taking home the title come Sunday. Trust me. Just like the other three fighting for the title, Keselowski will not hesitate to use his bumper when he needs it. 

If he wins, let’s hope he re-creates this moment:


Martin Truex Jr.

#78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota

Martin Truex Jr. may not have a championship like the other three drivers, but if anyone deserves the 2017 crown it is Martin Truex Jr. He’s put together the best season out of any driver, let alone the Championship Four, all season long. The #78 Toyota has won seven races and finished in the top five 18 times. However, out of the four remaining teams, Truex’s Furniture Row team has struggled the most at Homestead over the past three seasons. That includes 2015 where Truex made the Championship Four but wound up finishing 12th and had to watch Kyle Busch lift the trophy. On the other hand, at intermediate speedways this season Truex has finished in the top five thirteen out of seventeen races and has a top ten in all but one. His team has been the best at these types of race tracks all season long. 

Truex has come a long way since 2013:


Without a doubt, Sunday’s finale at Homestead is going to be thrilling.

 

Hamlin Dumps Elliott Late, Gets Chrome Horn From Teammate Anyway

Hamlin Dumps Elliott, Busch Capitalizes

Long Gone Caution Late

Chase Elliott had checked out. Martinsville and a ticket to Championship Weekend in Homestead were his. The bridesmaid was finally at the alter, in line to tie the knot. The only thing between the 21-year old and his first career Cup Series checkered flag was 41 laps and lap-traffic. Then the unthinkable, yet predictable, happened. The yellow flag is out; caution (Carl Long spin out). Suddenly, a several second lead was down to a matter of feet; just in time for the last series of pit stops. With the race and restart positioning on the line, the #24 Napa Auto Parts pit crew turned an impressive pit time of 12.1 seconds to get Elliott out back in the lead by inches.

Keselowski Takes Control

Back to Green. Chase Elliott chose to restart on the inside and controlled the dominate line for the restart with Brad Keselowski outside. Though Elliott held the dominate line after the restart, his car was tight on the short run. With 30 to go, Elliott’s car tightened up again heading into turn one. This time the #24 slid up-track just enough for Keselowski to inch his nose under Elliott for positioning. A lap later, the Miller Deuce was clear of Elliott and out front. Elliott fought hard with the #2 Penske Ford for ten laps, but Keselowski was able to fend of the second-year star and eventually put some space between the two.

Bunch’em Back Up

After the Carl Long (Lap 41) caution pit stop, Chase Elliott’s car just wasn’t the same. While Keselowski was riding off into the sunset, Elliott found himself under heavy fire from Joey Logano with Kyle Busch right behind him. Though Elliott’s car was fading after the battle with Keselowski, the #24 refused to let any others pass; however, Logano had other plans. With 20 to go, Logano had sights on a 1-2 Team Penske finish. As he and Elliott entered turn one Elliott’s car checked up a bit and Logano seized his opportunity. Unfortunately for Logano, his car tightened up too and Kyle Busch put his nose in the open spot. When Logano came back down, the spot was filled. Busch and Logano made contact and Elliott raced off.

Yellow Out Again

When Kyle Busch tapped Joey Logano, he bent in a piece of Logano’s sheet metal into his tire causing a rub. Already eliminated from the playoffs, Logano chose to race for his teammate, Keselowski, electing to stay out on the track for several laps trying not to bring out a caution. Fading fast, Logano finally makes a decision to pit. On the lap Logano planned to pit, his right-rear tire finally failed and the #22 spun out to bring the caution flag out again.

Dump #1

On the restart, Keselowski choose the outside. As Elliott held the inside edge heading into turn one, the #2 Ford got loose and Elliott dug inside for the lead. Denny Hamlin followed. Hamlin followed Elliott for a lap or so, but Elliott’s car was still pushing on the short run. With three laps to go, Hamlin rode Elliott way too hard into the third turn. Moments later, “He definitely wrecked me,” exclaimed Elliott, backwards against the outside wall after being dumped by Hamlin; caution flag. 74 Cup races, five second place finishes and he’d have to wait another week. Elliott would end up finishing 27th.

Dump #2

Denny Hamlin’s dump of Chase Elliott brought out the race’s final caution flag and sent the race into overtime. In the extra session, Hamlin caught instant karma. Hamlin’s Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch decided it was time to punch his third straight ticket into the Championship Four at Homestead. After taking the white flag, Busch forced his nose under Hamlin and pushed the native Virginian outside to take the advantage. Martin Truex, who was in third, was able to clear Hamlin as well and was inside of Busch coming out of turn four heading to the checker. The textbook way to play the final turn at Martinsville is for the inside car to lean hard on the outside car and push past to victory. Instead, Truex stayed clear and Busch took the checkered flag.

Cup Series at Martinsville Results

Pos.

#

Driver

1 18 Kyle Busch
2 78 Martin Truex Jr.
3 14 Clint Bowyer
4 2 Brad Keselowski
5 4 Kevin Harvick
6 6 Trevor Bayne
7 11 Denny Hamlin
8 21 Ryan Blaney
9 20 Matt Kenseth
10 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
11 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
12 48 Jimmie Johnson
13 3 Austin Dillon
14 31 Ryan Newman
15 19 Daniel Suarez
16 5 Kasey Kahne
17 10 Danica Patrick
18 43 Aric Amerola
19 95 Michael McDowell
20 27 Paul Menard
21 37 Chris Buescher
22 41 Kurt Busch
23 34 Landon Cassill
24 22 Joey Logano
25 72 Cole Whitt
26 77 Erik Jones
27 24 Chase Elliott
28 38 David Ragan
29 1 Jamie McMurray
30 13 Ty Dillon
31 83 Gray Gaulding
32 15 Reed Sorenson
33 23 Corey LaJoie
34 7 Hermie Sadler
35 51 Kyle Weatherman
36 66 Carl Long
37 42 Kyle Larson
38 33 Jeffery Earnhardt
39 32 Matt DiBenedetto
40 47 AJ Allmendinger

 

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