NASCAR Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: First Steps and Inside NASCAR’s Championship 4

ONE: The Championship 4

After nine weeks of “playoff” competition we’re done to the final four drivers who will compete for the prize of being crowned the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup series champion — the final award handed out by Sprint after a decade plus of title sponsorship. And it’s a good quartet. You have the reigning champion in Kyle Busch, the six time champion Jimmie Johnson seeking a record equaling seventh title. You also have two drivers who are yet to win a title in Carl Edwards and Joey Logano. Edwards, in particular, has missed out at this stage before – notably in 2011 when he finished tied on points with the eventual champion Tony Stewart who held the tie-breaker thanks to his five Chase wins. And finally Joey Logano — a driver who in a parallel universe might have won the title last year were it not for the Martinsville incident with Matt Kenseth. Who will win is anyone’s guess and you can certainly make a case for each of the quartet being the champion after 400 miles this Sunday afternoon. I suspect the fortunes and fates of each driver will fluctuate throughout the race but when it comes down to it, the driver who wants to be champion will likely have to win the race, as has been the case in the previous two years of this particular iteration. Whatever your opinion on said format, Sunday should be fun to watch. Enjoy it folks. We’ve got a long break before the 2017 season kicks off in earnest with the Daytona 500.

TWO: The Alternate Final Four

Since I mentioned a parallel universe with regard to Joey Logano, there’s also a case for an alternate final four based on this season’s form. So with that in mind, if Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin or Matt Kenseth were the final four this weekend would you have any complaints? Probably not to be fair. Sure, you’d be able to make a case for the four above (the actual final four) to be included but this list above could easily have been the quartet making up the championship chasers at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Such are the vagaries of this playoff system of ours. Martin Truex Jr. in particular probably feels hard done by that he didn’t make it to Miami with a chance at winning it all but you could make the same case for the other drivers I’ve listed above. The simple fact remains, though, that only one driver can win it all and, under this particular system, drivers who quote unquote deserve to make it have no guarantee that they actually will.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
One in, one out: there wasn’t enough room at the Homestead in for everyone. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade /
NKP)

THREE: The First Step

And from championship contenders, and those frustrated with not having a chance to contend, a quick look at the other end of the spectrum and Myatt Snider, who ended up with a credible lead-lap 17th-place finish in his first ever Camping World Truck Series race. Snider drove the # 22 Toyota Tundra for AM Racing with sponsorship coming from Original Louisiana Hot Sauce who had backed the 21-year old in his nine ARCA races this season. “I was feeling pretty optimistic going in,” noted Snider to Frontstretch.com. “I had out-qualified a couple trucks who were going to be cream of the crop.” And then in true racing style, Snider had a real welcome to NASCAR moment in the very first turn of his very first lap at the top echelon. “Everybody is breaking into the corner” said Snider of his eventful lap, “I didn’t want to run into anyone and I hear my spotter say “inside” and then I’m going around.” Luckily Snider just grazed the wall and was able to fit for fresh tires and continue his race. “Please don’t let this be a theme for the night,” noted Snider of that incident. And thankfully for the North Carolina native it wasn’t even making a last lap pass on the outside to finish 17th. Snider’s biggest learning on the night was how the air affected his truck, especially when mired back in traffic. And when asked about his well-known father, popular NBC Sports broadcaster Marty Snider, the rookie noted: “I couldn’t do it without him. He’s a huge help in every single aspect. There are not words I can say to emphasize how grateful I am for him.” Expect more from Snider in 2017, he’s definitely one to watch.

FOUR: The Final Race

Next up, as you’ll probably be more than well aware it’s the final race of the season. This will be race number 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the fifteenth time (in a row) it has been the final race of the NASCAR season. The first race, appropriately enough was won by Tony Stewart with Bobby Labonte finishing second and NBC’s own Jeff Burton coming in third. Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart have both won at Miami three times (most among active drivers) with Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick tied for the most top-5 finishes (seven apiece). And perhaps a harbinger of what is to come this weekend, Carl Edwards has led the most laps (568). Edwards also holds the second best average finish (9.2) with only Kevin Harvick ahead of him (7.2). Another stat that might be worth noting is that only one driver has won the race leading a single lap (Bobby Labonte all the way back in 2003. What we’ve seen in both previous final races under this new format is that the winner of the race has won the championship (Kevin Harvick in 2014, Kyle Busch in 2015) so it’s probably fair to expect the race winner and thus the champion to come from the final four. Should be a fun one to watch.

FIVE: And finally….

I’m off on vacation next week so this will be the final column of my ninth year writing full time for this fine site. As always, it is a pleasure and a privilege to have this outlet. Okay, if I’m honest some weeks can be excruciatingly difficult (especially those off weeks) but for the most part I never forget how fun it is to be able to write on all things NASCAR. I want to give a quick shout out as well to the fine folks who edit me and try to make sense of all my crazy British words and phraseology. Thanks, too, to everyone who has commented, including those who have told me I’m an idiot. There are times when you’re probably absolutely right. Enjoy Championship weekend everybody. I’ll catch you in the 2017 pre-season.

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