NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fantasy Friday: Johnson has nothing to lose in final race this time

We’ve hit race No. 36 overall, and race No. 10 in the Chase as NASCAR finish up another season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It will be hard for NASCAR to top the drama it had last year at when Tony Stewart needed a victory to capture the title, then went out and won. It will be next to impossible to match the drama from last week, with then points leader Jimmie Johnson crashing, Jeff Gordon extracting revenge on Clint Bowyer in the form a causing a crash, and a last lap finish that became wild when NASCAR didn’t throw the caution while Danica Patrick’s car left oil down in turn 4 and all along the frontstretch.

Brad Keselowski heads into Miami with a 20-point lead over Johnson and needs only a 15th-place finish to clinch the title, no matter what Johnson does. Keselowski’s first goal, contrary to what his instincts will want it to be, is to stay out of trouble. He’ll also be protecting tires, to try and avoid what happened to Johnson last week.
Unless an accident or mechanical issue sidelines Keselowski early, Johnson will be going all out for the win.

Top 5 Picks

1. Jimmie Johnson. His past history at Miami is a bit deceiving because during his run of five straight titles, he often was in control of the points race and was just looking to stay out of trouble, taking few risks. That won’t be the case this Sunday as he knows he’ll need to win for any shot to catch Keselowski.

2. Brad Keselowski. He’ll be in protection mode, but I’m picking him anyway. He’s only led 11 laps in eight races at Miami, but he’s been breaking those trends the entire Chase and it may well continue here.

3. Carl Edwards. If there’s any place that he can break his 68-race losing streak it’s at Miami. He has two wins in eight races at Miami and has led 560 laps. Plus he finished runner-up to Tony Stewart last year after leading the most laps.

4. Tony Stewart. He ended last season at Miami with a win, and just like Edwards, Miami has been one of his best tracks. In 13 races there he has three wins and has led 450 laps.

5. Matt Kenseth. This race will be his last with the only organization he has ever known, and Miami has also been a good track for him. He has one win there and has led 303 laps in 12 races. He’d love to finish his Roush Fenway tenure with one more win before moving to Joe Gibbs Racing next season.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda: Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer. Just for fun, wouldn’t it be interesting to see Gordon leading this race on the final lap, with Bowyer on his bumper. Do we really need to ask what the outcome might be?

ACCOUNTABILITY GROUP
Here’s a look at how last week’s picks fared in Week 9 of the Chase at Phoenix.

Jimmie Johnson – 32nd. He was looking at a top-10 finish before his right-front tire blew, causing him to go to the garage for repairs.

Brad Keselowski – 6th. He was a contender to win for a while, but once Johnson went out, it was clear that he was looking for a good finish and to stay out of trouble.

Denny Hamlin – 2nd. He also was in contention much of the day and had a nice rebound after a disappointing finish in Texas the week before.

Tony Stewart – 19th. He was trying to battle for a top-10 finish when a spin put him a lap down.

Kyle Busch – 3rd. He had the dominating car for most of the day, but for some reason chose the inside lane on a late restart when the outside lane had been working well all day for restarts. He led the most laps at 237 and it was the eighth straight time when he has led the most laps in a race and not won.

Season Stats
175 Predictions
17 Wins
56 Top 5s
84 Top 10s

Grade for the week: B-. No winner this time, even though Busch should have won it. Still three of the top 6 isn’t too bad.

One last thing: Ryan Newman has not started from the pole this year, putting at risk his streak of 11 straight seasons of winning at least one pole position. Additionally he hasn’t managed to grab a pole at Homestead in 10 starts.

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