Roger Diez: NASCAR will crown its champion on Sunday | NevadaAppeal.com

Roger Diez: NASCAR will crown its champion on Sunday

Roger Diez

One of four drivers will be crowned 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR champion Sunday at Homestead. Three of them already have championship trophies and one is still looking for his first title in NASCAR’s premier division. Martin Truex Jr. won the 2017 championship, Kyle Busch was the 2015 champion, and Kevin Harvick won his title in 2014. Denny Hamlin is the only contender who has not won the grand prize. This year’s final is historic, because it is the first time one team has fielded three cars in the championship race since the playoff elimination system began in 2016.

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This final race is unique in that a driver doesn’t have to get the pole, score stage points, or win the race to become champion. It’s like the old story of two guys running from a bear when one guy says, “We’ll never outrun that bear.” And his buddy replies, “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you!” Whoever finishes ahead of the other three contenders will be the champion, no matter where they finish.

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So, what do the stats say? Who’s best on half-mile tracks? Who has the best pit crew? Who is most consistent? Here are just a few of the parameters the experts are looking at. Martin Truex Jr. has the best 2019 record overall (and on 1.5-mile tracks), best finishing record in the playoffs, and best team overall. Kevin Harvick has the best career record on 1.5-mile tracks, best average finish at Homestead, fewest 2019 pit-road mistakes, and most championship run experience. Kyle Busch has the most career wins, best pit crew in 2019 (including in the playoffs), and the best average running position in 2019. Denny Hamlin isn’t first in any of the categories the experts are considering, but he’s had a solid season and most important of all, momentum. Coming off his win in Phoenix, Hamlin is fired up and motivated to win his first title. Having said all that, anything can happen Sunday. That’s why they run the race.

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The Formula One season is also winding down, but still has two races to go. Both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships have already been decided in favor of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes, so Sunday’s race in Brazil is a bit anticlimactic. However, there are still final season standings farther down the order to be determined. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, in third place in the driver standings with 249 points, faces a 10-place grid penalty in Brazil for an engine change, putting him on the back foot. If rival Red Bull driver Max Verstappen has a good race, it could significantly close the 14-point gap to Leclerc going into the season finale in Dubai. Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel is only five points behind Verstappen and that gap could easily be overcome in Brazil. The Constructors’ race is also done, with Ferrari in a safe second, Red Bull third, and McLaren fourth. Not enough points remain on offer to change any of those positions.

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Newly crowned champion Hamilton has won twice in Brazil, in 2016 and 2018, while Vettel’s three wins came in 2010, 2013, and 2017. The only other driver in the field with a victory in Brazil is Kimi Raikkonen, now driving for Alfa Romeo.

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Finally, the NHRA wraps up its 2019 season at Pomona. Going into the weekend, Steve Torrence leads Brittany Force by only 16 points in Top Fuel; Robert Hight has a 46-point lead on Jack Beckman in Funny Car; Erica Enders has a whopping 92-point edge on Jeg Coughlin Jr. in Pro Stock; and Andrew Hines leads Pro Stock Motorcycle by 115 over Jerry Savoie.