OK, I was wrong. But I’m in good company, because a lot of pundits picked Kevin Harvick to win at Phoenix last Sunday. He’s pulled off so many miracles in past Chase scenarios and was almost unbeatable at Phoenix. It just goes to show you racing is unpredictable.
That being said, I hesitate to predict anything about Sunday’s championship round for the final race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup era at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Four racers — Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano — are vying for the title. So how do they stack up at the Florida 1.5 mile oval? On the basis of past performance, Edwards would have to get the nod. Edwards has won the final race in 2010 and 2008, has the best average finish (9.2) and the highest driver rating (109.4), as well as five top fives, two poles, and no DNFs. Busch won it last year on his way to the championship, but has only two top fives and two DNFs. He also has the worst average finish (21.1) and the third-highest driver rating (95.5) of the four contenders. Homestead is one of the few tracks where Johnson has never won, but he has two poles, four top fives, and is second-best in both average finish (14.1) and driver rating (96.8). On the down side, he has two DNFs. Logano is also winless at Homestead and has fewer than half as many starts there (7) as Johnson’s 15. Logano’s average finish in 17.7, driver rating is 83.5, and he has one top five, pole, and DNF.
Of course, winning at the final race isn’t necessary to become champion under the current Chase format. The highest finisher among the four contenders will be crowned on Sunday, even if he finishes well down the overall order. But believe me, they ‘ll all be trying their best to win this race. However, unlike other sports the four title contenders will also have to deal with the 36 other drivers on the track, who each have their own winning aspirations and agenda.
Previously eliminated Chase drivers who have won at Homestead include Harvick (2014), Denny Hamlin (2013 and 2009), Tony Stewart (2011, 2000, and 1999), and Matt Kenseth (2007). Greg Biffle also won three times from 2004 to 2006.
By the time this is printed, the Camping World Truck champion will already be crowned — Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell, or Timothy Peters. Today the Xfinity series will crown its first Chase champion, who will be either Justin Allgaier, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, or Elliott Sadler. Sadler will be minus crew chief Kevin Meendring at Homestead due to a suspension for loose lug nuts at Phoenix in post-race inspection. None of the four contenders has ever won at Homestead, but like the Cup Chase format, the highest finisher among the four will win the title.
The penultimate 2016 Formula One race last Sunday in Brazil was run in pouring rain. Red flags delayed the action but all scheduled laps were run in just under the time limit. Once again the Mercedes team finished first and second, with Lewis Hamilton taking the checker. But the three-time champion is still 12 points behind teammate Nico Rosberg with only one race remaining. However, the Brazilian Grand Prix revealed a new rain master in 19-year-old Red Bull pilot Max Verstappen. Verstappen ran as high as second after a brilliant pass on Rosberg, but had to pit late in the race for tires. He came out of the pits and put on the most masterful exhibition of rain driving anyone has ever seen, slicing his way through the field to claim the final podium spot in third. It was absolutely breathtaking. Unfortunately for him, chances of rain in next Sunday’s race at Abu Dhabi are between slim and none, so it will probably be left to the Mercedes duo to duke it out in the season finale.