Ford 400 Preview
HOMESTEAD, Fla. - The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship comes to a crescendo Sunday with the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the closest points race in the history of the format.
Carl Edwards leads Tony Stewart by only three points and NASCAR has the "Game 7" moment it had hoped for when the season began.
Over the course of the nine races run so far in the title season each driver has given several examples of why they'll win the championship in 2011.
Edwards has been nearly a model of consistency since the first green flag of the season while Stewart started slow and turned up the heat once the playoffs started to ride a wave of momentum toward the top of the standings.
Both drivers are comfortable with the approach they've taken to put themselves in position to take the crown.
"We haven't won one. Tony has won four of these in the Chase. There's different approaches you can take to it," explained Edwards.
"To be clear, we've not gone out and said, Hey, we're not going to try to win this race, we're going to cruise along. We've done our very best. For us, that's one of the things I've most proud of. We've performed very well even on the days when things didn't stack up in our favor. We had some pretty big hills we had to climb. I feel whatever points system you've got, over time you're going to have close battles, you're going to have some that aren't so close. I think all of us are fortunate that it's close this year, it's exciting. It's fun to be a part of something like this."
Stewart concurs with his combatant about working under the system in place and has no problem with the fact he has more victories than Edwards but yet trails in the standings.
"How can their points system be good if the guy that's won four races is behind a guy that hasn't won any races,?" Stewart asked. The points system is good. It's easy to look at that and say that it's not good because of that fact. But what you got to understand is that, unlike other sports where it's two teams against each other, it's 43 teams, it's a 10-race Chase. You accumulate points for 10 races.
"The fact we've won four races doesn't mean we should be ahead of Carl. We did not do our job in some of the other races. That got us behind. Because of the new system, having the bonus points for winning, we were able to catch up and gain those points back. I think it's proven to be a pretty good system so far. You have two guys within three points of each other going into the last race. I don't know how you can say it's bad."
All of the warm-up has set the table for what could possibly be a winner take all scenario in Sunday's race. The strategy for both drivers is pretty simple, rather than having to figure out how many positions they'll need to finish ahead of the other to take home the title.
Take the checkered flag and no matter what the other does the Sprint Cup trophy is his.
"It's an awesome position to be in," said Stewart. "Three points really isn't a deficit at this point. We go out and win the race, it doesn't matter what they do on their side, we still control our own destiny.
We have absolutely got nothing to lose and everything to gain. That makes us a dangerous combination for the weekend."
Edwards also feels very good about his chances this weekend and is doing his best to block out as much pressure as possible.
"This is what I've prepared my whole racing life to do," said Edwards. "To win a Sprint Cup championship is the ultimate goal and I'm in the best position to accomplish that. I can't wait."
Let the games begin.
Track Size: 1.5-mile
Race Length: 267 laps/400.5 miles
Banking/Corners: 18 - 20 degrees
Banking/Straights: 4 degrees
Frontstretch: 1,760 feet
Backstretch: 1,760 feet
2010 pole winner: Kasey Kahne (176.904 mph, 30.525 seconds)
2010 race winner: Carl Edwards (126.585 mph, 11-21-10)
Track qualifying record: Jamie McMurray (181.111 mph, 29.816 seconds, 11-16-03)
Track race record: Tony Stewart (140.335 mph, 11-14-99)
Since the inception of the position-based points system in 1975, only three drivers have made up a points deficit in the season finale: Richard Petty in 1979 (made up two points on Darrell Waltrip), Alan Kulwicki in 1992 (made up 30 points on Davey Allison) and Jimmie Johnson in 2010 (made up 15 points on Denny Hamlin).
There have been 12 NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Homestead, one per season since 1999.
Five drivers have competed in all 12 races: Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Elliott Sadler and Tony Stewart.
David Green won the first pole, in 1999.
Tony Stewart won the inaugural race, in 1999.
There have been nine different pole winners. Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson lead all drivers, with two.
There have been eight different race winners, led by Greg Biffle, with three.
Jack Roush has won seven races, most among owners.
The race has been won from the pole twice: Bill Elliott (2001) and Kurt Busch (2002).
The race has been won from a top-10 starting position in nine of 12 races.
Denny Hamlin won in 2009 from the 38th starting position, the furthest back a race winner has started.
Three active drivers have averaged a top-10 finish: Carl Edwards (5.7), Kevin Harvick (7.9) and A.J. Allmendinger (8.7).
Who’s Hot at Homestead
Carl Edwards – Carries a three point lead in the standings into one of his best race tracks and in fact a place where the entire Roush Fenway Racing team and Ford has prospered in recent years. Edwards has won two of the last three races at Homestead and has been very strong at other mile-and-a-half tracks during the Chase providing tremendous confidence in his quest for a first career Sprint Cup championship.
Tony Stewart – He's a two-time Homestead winner but those came back on the track's old flat layout. But Stewart brings a boatload of momentum into the season finale and has carried a swagger throughout the Chase that shows no signs of slowing down in his run for a third title. Stewart's win at Texas should be beneficial to his effort on Sunday but more than anything he may have the advantage in the intangible department.
Kevin Harvick – Comes to Homestead this year not in the thick of the championship race as he was last year but in perfect position to pay the spoiler role. Harvick has performed exceptionally well at Homestead in recent outings including three straight finishes of second or third. He has compiled an average finish of 7.9 in ten career starts, third best on the active list.
Juan Pablo Montoya – It's a home game for the Miami resident but Homestead hasn't been a happy home for Montoya in the NASCAR career. He has an average finish of 27.8 in five starts including a dismal 35th in last year's race.
Kyle Busch – Would like nothing better than a good finish this weekend to go into the off-season on a positive note and begin to put the tumultuous last several weeks in the rear view mirror. But will have his work cut out for him to do that at Homestead where he's struggled in the Sprint Cup Series. Busch has only top ten finish in six career starts that saw a 32nd place run end his 2010 campaign.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Homestead has vexed Earnhardt since he moved into the Sprint Cup Series. Eleven starts have generated a 24.2 average finish. Junior still has a shot at being the highest finishing Hendrick driver in the Cup Series but will have to turnaround his dismal performance record at HMS to do so.
Groundbreaking for Homestead-Miami Dade Motorsports Complex – as the track was originally named – began Aug. 24, 1993. The first race was a NASCAR Nationwide Series event on Nov. 5, 1995.
The original configuration was a four-turn, rectangular oval based on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's layout.
The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Homestead was held on Nov. 14, 1999.
2002 was the first season of the Championship Weekend at Homestead, with all three of NASCAR’s national series holding their season finale at the same track.
There have been 167 NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Florida.
165 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series have their home state recorded as Florida.
There have been 10 race winners from Florida in NASCAR’s three national series.
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