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Race Day: It Shapes Up As A Day To Just Go For It

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 21 2010

Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick will be going for the 2010 Sprint Cup championship today. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

When the season-ending Ford 400 begins today at Homestead-Miami Speedway, only 46 points will separate the three drivers who remain in contention for this year’s Sprint Cup championship. Only 15 points separate the top two.

Because of all that, and because all three have been consistently high finishers throughout the Chase and because all three drive well at Homestead, today’s race is shaping up as a winner-take-all job.

Yep, chances are good that if one of those three wins the race, he will win what is perhaps the ugliest trophy in professional sports (sorry IndyCar).

All three drivers were asked if that will simplify strategy: Will they all go all out for victory on Sunday afternoon?

They said:

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (points leader): “I think you’re going to see a race very similar to what you’ve seen the first nine Chase races.  I think you’ll see – for us, we’re probably going to have to battle back from a bad starting spot which is relatively normal.  I think that by the end of the day that you’ll still see the same guys upfront.  I’m not sure of the aggressive nature.  I don’t know how much more aggressive you could be without just really putting yourself at a huge risk of wrecking or getting in an incident on a restart.  There’s a limit there.  We can all say that we’re going to be more aggressive, but we’re really pushing it to the edge every single week.  There’s not that much more to get except for possibly restarts.”

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (second place): “Yeah, without a doubt. I think the way everybody is approaching the start of the race, qualifying will tell a tale and some guys may be in the back and may need to be aggressive to get to the front. Some guys may be up front and their job is a little bit easier. So the things needed to win the championship will kind of evolve as each lap is made this weekend. Even then, we look at last weekend’s race, the No. 11 (Hamlin) was the dominant car and fuel strategy came into play and we didn’t know until the checkered fell, who was going to finish where. So it has that potential to go all the way to the end. I hope it doesn’t. I hope it’s very easy for the No. 48 early and off we go. I don’t’ know if we’re going to have that luxury this year.”

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet (third place): “From listening, that seems to be everybody’s plan. I think that’s the only way you can control your destiny is to go out and win the race. Those guys have a lot of scenarios; our scenario is very simple – you go out and win the race and they have to have a fourth and a seventh, and that’s the best-case scenario. So, for us, it’s simple. And I think those guys are talking that way – whether they do that or not awaits to be seen.”

Track facts

What: Ford 400

Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway

When: Sunday, 1:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128

Track layout: 1.5-mile oval

Race distance: 267 laps/400.5 miles

Estimated pit window: 50-55 laps

Frontstretch: 1,760 feet

Backstretch: 1,760 feet

Banking in straights: 4 degrees

Banking in turns: 18-20 degrees

2009 winner: Denny Hamlin

2009 polesitter: Jimmie Johnson

Today’s polesitter: Kasey Kahne

Team sport?

Racing is referred to as a team sport. What can teammates do to help determine the outcome of the championship?

Jeff Gordon, teammate of Jimmie Johnson said: “I think the best thing we can do to contribute is have a fast race car so we can tell them the things that we’re doing that are working well and help them have a better race car for the race.  They seem to be running pretty good as well.  There’s very little we can do other than that.  Obviously if we’re running in 10th or 12th position and they need a position or two, then you do what you can there to help them.  Not a whole lot other than that.  We’ve done quite a bit already and we’ll do what we can.  I don’t know if there’s a whole lot more we can do.”

Clint Bowyer, teammate of Kevin Harvick said: “On Sunday, it’s too late I think. Through practice sessions and things like that, we’ve got to be able to think outside the box a little bit, work on some things and if we can find a package that is superior to maybe what Kevin (Harvick) has, maybe we could help him out there. I gave him my pit crew and we’re trying. We have to everything we can do and I feel like we’ve done that.”

At this track

The breakdown for the contenders at Homestead:

Denny Hamlin – five starts, one victory, three top-fives, 10.6 average finish

Jimmie Johnson – nine starts, zero victories, three top-fives, 12.6 average finish

Kevin Harvick – nine starts, zero victories, four top-fives, 8.4 average finish

Trivia time

Which driver has led the most laps at Homestead?

No cookie-cutter

Greg Biffle on Homestead-Miami Speedway: This track is completely different than a lot of them. A lot of mile-and-half’s have similarities. Kansas, Chicago, Texas and Charlotte, those kinds of places are similar. This place is unique.”

A metal-working class?

Driver Jeff Burton was asked if he thinks two or more of the contenders could get together on the track. You know, wreck each other.

“Listen,” Burton said, “it’s been an interesting two or three weeks.  I never remember a time in our sport where there’s been this much talking.  It’s been pretty interesting.  I almost feel like we’re going to a boxing match, you know what I mean?  There’s been a lot of talking, there’s been a lot of attempted mind games, it’s been interesting.  I think that they’re all three charged up and I think they’re all three running on tilt and there’s a lot on the line.  When there’s this much on the line, things can happen.  I think they’re all going to go out and race the best way they know how.  They have to be aggressive.  There’s not one of them that cannot afford to be aggressive.  That means that if they’re running fourth and they need to be running second, they’re going to do whatever they have to do to get where they need to go.”

Track tidbits

Most wins: Greg Biffle, three

Most top-fives: Jeff Gordon, 11

Best average start: 6th, Kasey Kahne

Best average finish: 6th, Carl Edwards

Drivers who got first career wins at Homestead: None

Most lead changes: 25, 2007

Fewest lead changes: 12, 2002

Most leaders: 12, (two times)

Fewest leaders: 6, 2002

Most cautions: 14, 2004

Fewest cautions: 1, 1999

Smallest margin of victory: .017seconds, 2005

Yougest winner: Kurt Busch in 2002 (24 years, 3 months, 13 days)

Oldest winner: Bill Elliott in 2001 (46 years, 1 month, 3 days)

The pick

Several drivers were asked to pick the winner. None would bite.

Like Matt Kenseth, the 2003 champion:

“They haven’t been quite on the roll they’ve been lately, for sure, and that’s hard to say since he’s only 15 points out of the lead, but the 11’s performance seems to be quite a bit better all year.  The 11 has been real strong, and his performance has been real good lately, so I guess you would probably have to give him the advantage for performance so far, but this is a different track and a different weekend.   The 48 has the experience of doing it the last four years, so I think it’s an interesting mix.”

Trivia answer

Tony Stewart has led the most laps at Homestead – 384.

Next up

The 2011 Daytona 500. Jamie McMurray won this year’s race while Mark Martin was on the pole.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 21 2010
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