Three races. Twelve drivers. Three championships up for grabs. Who will win?
That’s the big question heading into the NASCAR finale weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway: Who will win? For the Sprint Cup Series, it’s a question that’s been asked the past two years as four drivers have come into the finale with a shot at the trophy. For the XFINITY and Camping World Truck series, it’s a new question, an intriguing setup to end the first season using the elimination-style Chase format.
In Cup, you’ll have Jimmie Johnson going for history, Joey Logano trying to avenge last year’s heartbreak, Carl Edwards trying to score the most points and win the title and Kyle Busch looking to repeat as champ.
Three completely different races, each with their own unique storylines. Three champions yet to be crowned. Which race will put on the best show? Enter this special three-opinion edition of our much-debated-on 2-Headed Monster column.
Cup gets the top spot because of the plethora of storylines heading into the finale. Sure, NXS has the opportunity to crown the first Mexican champion in a NASCAR national touring series. Bell’s transformation from dirt standout to Truck champ would be a great boon for those currently slinging dirt each weekend. And seeing Sadler finally get the title that has eluded him for years would be nice.
But those scenarios are unlikely to garner the amount of attention that will come the Cup champ’s way following Sunday’s race. Let’s start with the biggest storyline heading into the weekend – Johnson’s opportunity to tie both Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty with seven championships apiece. It’s a feat that no one thought would ever be matched, especially in today’s ultra-competitive landscape. But here we are with a chance at seeing history be made.
That Johnson will likely have to win the race only adds to the drama. And, should he do so, the victory will add to his legacy as he will not only tie the Intimidator and the King, but cross a track off his winless list. It will be a different Johnson than we’ve seen during his past six title runs. Instead of leaning on a points cushion or allowing bad luck on his opponent’s part to help him net a title, he’ll have to channel his inner Kevin Harvick and become the bull – pushing his way to victory. It wouldn’t be surprising one bit to see Johnson pull a Tony Stewart and put on the drive of his life to get the title.
But Johnson isn’t the only major story heading into Miami. Logano is just one race away from finally putting Cup champion on his resume next to Daytona 500 winner and Sliced Bread. The sting of 2014’s Chase loss was nothing compared to last season’s ouster after going for his fourth-straight win only to be crashed by Matt Kenseth. Winning last week gives the Team Penske driver the momentum needed to overcome the defeats of years past and leave Florida as champion.
Busch is playing the same exact game he did last season, doing just enough to make the Championship 4. With the experience of last year’s race under his belt, he should be considered the favorite – by a slim margin – to win it all again and legitimize last year’s win that was marked by many with an asterisk after he missed the first 11 races of the season.
But Busch isn’t the only JGR driver with a shot at the title. Edwards came out of nowhere two weeks ago to win the rain-shortened event at Texas, using the victory to leapfrog up the standings after a poor run at Martinsville the week before nearly doomed his title hopes. Edwards has championship experience, and lost the title on a tiebreaker to Stewart in 2011. With no such chance of that happening this season – finishing position determines the winner – Edwards looks to translate his solid Homestead experience to a race win and backflip his way to the last Sprint Cup ever awarded.
Aren’t those stories special? All four would make great champions. Wouldn’t they be a great benefit to a sport that seems to get mainstream media attention for the fights and wrecks? Following Sunday’s race, the sports world will have a lot to say about whoever takes the title.
Need a reason to watch the last race of the XFINITY Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend? Chances are, your least-favorite Sprint Cup interloper will not be able to participate! NASCAR announced back in February that anyone who qualified for the 2015 Sprint Cup Chase would not be eligible to compete in this year’s NXS finale. That means no Kyle Busch, no Joey Logano, no Brad Keselowski, no Kevin Harvick, no Denny Hamlin, and no Paul Menard. This is one race in which the XFINITY regulars will have a better chance to be the stars of the show.
Of course, the championship battle will draw the most focus, and the title will be a big achievement for whoever wins it. None of the four championship contenders have ever won an XFINITY title. Somebody is going to earn the crowning achievement of their stock car racing career to date, and who wouldn’t want to see that?
The NXS season finale offers plenty of great stories for the remaining Chasers. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez are two of NASCAR’s rising stars. Jones is fresh off a championship in the Camping World Truck Series. He is hoping to add one more title to his resume before embarking on his Sprint Cup career in 2017. Widely regarded as one of the best young talents in the sport, will Jones claim another championship on Saturday?
Meanwhile, Suarez also has a good shot at the XFINITY title. Although he has been somewhat overshadowed by Jones this year, Suarez has put together a superbly consistent season. After a successful run in NASCAR’s Mexico Series, will Suarez make his version of the American Dream a reality?
Up against the JGR duo are another pair of teammates, JR Motorsports drivers Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier. Both drivers are in their first season with JRM and either one is capable of winning the championship. Sadler is in his sixth season of his XFINITY return after a 12 year Sprint Cup career, highlighted by three wins. Sadler has bounced around among several different teams in the last few years, but he has always been in title contention. Is this the year he finally puts it all together?
Finally, there is Allgaier, who has far fewer Sprint Cup starts than Sadler and no wins at NASCAR’s top level. Returning to more familiar territory in the XFINITY Series, Allgaier is in the best position of his career to capture a NASCAR championship. If he wins the big prize, it may be a springboard back to the Sprint Cup Series. Can he deliver at Homestead?
One of these four drivers must win, and the one who does will win big. There is every reason to believe that the 2016 XFINITY Series season will end with a bang. Do not miss out!
These guys left me with the easy part of writing. Simply put, the Truck Series battle is the one to watch this weekend, especially when you consider the amount of talent in this battle and that the series typically puts on the best racing week after week anyway.
You have a trio of veterans facing off with a rookie who’s driving for the team that produced the most recent champion in Erik Jones. Christopher Bell will have his work cut out for him, given the amount of experience the other three drivers have in this battle, but you can bet Kyle Busch Motorsports will do everything in its power to ensure the driver of the No. 4 Toyota has the best possible setup for the weekend.
But the rookie won’t have it easy by any means, especially when you consider that one of the drivers that joins him in the Championship 4 has two titles under his belt. Matt Crafton has approached this Chase much like he’s done with his prior championship battles: worry about each race and the points will take care of themselves. A calm Crafton is a dangerous Crafton.
Perhaps the biggest threat for this race – and likely the driver who will end up the champion – is Johnny Sauter. He may be driving the lone Chevrolet in a battle with the Toyota teams, but GMS Racing is peaking at exactly the right time. Two wins and a runner-up finish for Sauter in the Round of 6 means you would be crazy to think he won’t be in the mix, especially since he’s got a win and six top 10s in nine starts at Homestead.
And we can’t leave out Timothy Peters, who hasn’t been a major threat all season, however he has the experience of nine starts at Homestead, something that’s certainly not lost on the No. 17 team. But perhaps what’s more important for Peters is that the performance for that team is on the upswing in the last several races. In fact, half of the eight top 5s the 36-year-old has this season have come in the last six events.
And all of that doesn’t even take into consideration that history will be made Friday night. After all, it’s the inaugural Chase for the Championship, and no other driver in the future can claim to be the first Chase winner.
Plus, you have to keep in mind that there are plenty of non-Chase stories to keep tabs on too. You have the No. 9 team, which many believe should be involved in the Championship – and rightfully so. William Byron would love nothing more to close out his time with KBM by scoring his seventh win. Of course, if that’s not enough for you, there’s Tyler Reddick, who will make his final start for Brad Keselowski Racing after announcing last week he would not be returning to the organization.
The bottom line is that you can’t afford to miss the Truck Series battle for the championship. With so much talent in – and out of – the championship battle, you can bet everyone will be treated to plenty of action, though the race will be the shortest of the weekend.