Guess what, NASCAR champion decided Sunday
November 21, 2015
In case you haven't heard, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series determines the 2015 champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday.
The championship-contending field was set last Sunday at Phoenix, with Jeff Gordon the only winner in the Elimination round of the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. qualified on points. For Sunday's race, I'm reminded of the old joke about two guys being chased by a bear. One says, "We'll never outrun that bear." The second replies, "I just need to outrun YOU!" And that's the key for Sunday's race. A win won't necessary, just finishing the highest of those four drivers will achieve the desired result.
Last week's Phoenix round was excruciating, with a six-hour rain delay culminating in a rain-shortened race. A late caution flag caught a number of drivers a lap down, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in front when the race was called. It's too bad Junior's victory came after he had already been eliminated from Chase contention. Carl Edwards was the highest-finishing Chase driver eliminated on Sunday. Also not making the final Chase field were Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, and Brad Keselowski.
So let's look at the form each contender has displayed at the south Florida track to date. Harvick and Gordon have each won once at Homestead, with Harvick's win coming last fall. Neither Kyle Busch nor Truex Jr. have won there. Harvick has the best Homestead average finishing position at 7.5. Truex averages a 10th place finish, Gordon 10.5, and Busch 23.1. Gordon has 7 top-5 finishes to Harvick's six, and each have 12 top-10s. Truex has three top-5s and seven top-10s, while Busch has only one top-5 and three top-10s. Truex possesses the best Homestead driver rating at 106.6. Harvick is second with a 102.5, Gordon a 100.7, and Busch 91.5. But as they say in a stock prospectus, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
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Again, a win isn't necessary to capture the title, just the highest finish of those four. There are certainly those among the drivers eliminated from the Chase who could take the checkers at Homestead. Among them are Edwards and Denny Hamlin with two wins each. Kurt Busch and a returning Matt Kenseth have a win apiece. And two drivers who didn't make the Chase, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle, have each won three times at Homestead. Unfortunately, the latter pair have had a pretty dismal 2015 season, so probably won't be a factor.
Internet search engine Bing has predicted defending champion Kevin Harvick will repeat as champion, and that's not a bad bet. But my sentimental choice for 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is the retiring Jeff Gordon. It would be a storybook finish to an illustrious career. My second choice would be Martin Truex Jr., whose underdog single-car team has had a terrific season. And, although I've never made it a secret Kyle Busch is not my favorite driver, he has done an amazing job to come back from injury and adversity to contend for the title.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg won the Brazilian Grand Prix last Sunday, cementing his second place in the drivers' championship. It was another 1-2 finish for Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton trailing Rosberg to the flag. Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel captured third in both the race and the championship, with a 130-point advantage over Williams driver Valtteri Bottas. Next weekend is the season finale for the F1 series at Abu Dhabi, after which the teams will be hard at work developing their 2016 cars. Fans will like one of the technical changes for last season. Since the new turbocharged engine formula came in, the cars just haven't sounded like race cars. So for 2016, all cars have to have a separate exhaust wastegate tailpipe for the wastegate gases. This should improve the engine sound, which will be a welcome change.