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Race Day Stats: Edwards To Win Title…Or Stewart

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 20 2011

The spoils that will go to the victory in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Best Chase ever? That will depend on what happens this afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Today’s championship-deciding Ford 400 could be an anticlimactic dog. Yep, like a Super Bowl. Or it could be terrific.

One thing for sure is that the buildup for it has been pretty darn good. Thanks, primarily, to the two drivers who have emerged from the pack of 12. Their yin and yang have provided zing.

Tony Stewart rolled out the nukes in his psychological assault on Carl Edwards. The Stewart-Haas RAcing owner/driver called Edwards everything but a communist.

Edwards responded with a ground assault: He and his Roush Fenway Racing team successfully spent practice sessions on Saturday working on qualifying in hopes of winning the pole and the psychological and logistical advantages that being P1 at HMS encompass.

While Edwards and Stewart are widely separated in Rorschach results, they are welded together in knowledge that the only way  either can be certain that they will be this year’s Sprint Cup champion is to win the Ford 400.

Edwards wins, he is champ. Stewart wins, he is champ; As simple is that (well, almost as there are some niggling bonus point implications but they will not matter).

Which driver has the best chance of getting that victory? Time for a stat check.

Both drivers have two victories at HMS.

Carl Edwards has the points lead and recent history on his side. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Edwards’ two victories – including one of a year ago – have come in the last three races at the 1.5-mile track. That means, both have come on the track since it was reconfigured with steeper, progressive banking, while Stewart’s came before the 2003 revamp job.

Edwards’ average finish is an impressive 6th to Stewart’s darn good 12th.

Edwards said HMS is his favorite paved track, and, “We will go there and try to repeat what we did last year. I feel like we have a good opportunity to do that this year. I think we will go into Homestead trying to sit on the pole and win the race and put a dot on this championship, hopefully.”

Stewart said, “I like Homestead. It’s a place that we had a lot of success when it was flat.  We haven’t got that win with it banked. (But) I like the way that track races right now.”

Also, Stewart will be driving a Chevrolet at a track at which Roush Fords won six of the last seven years.

Other factors seem to favor Stewart.

Like momentum. Stewart has won four 2011 Chase races. He arrives at Homestead with three straight podium finishes. Stewart has traditionally said he doesn’t put much stock in momentum but, as he said heading to Kansas after finishing 25th at Dover, “I would rather have it than not have it.”

Edwards said Stewart’s momentum only inspires him.

“It is neat to me that Tony and the guys on the 14 have been running so well and have won so many races and are performing at such a high level. It is going to mean more if we are able to beat them in this championship because of that.”

Tony Stewart has the championship experience on his side. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Greg Ellman)

Stewart also has championship experience – he won the Sprint Cup titles in 2002 and 2004.

“The good thing is we’ve been in this position a lot of times,” he Stewart said.

And then, Edwards has that pole and the best pit stall.

And the winner will be…

Race Day’s picks are: Carl Edwards wins the championship and the race.

Fast facts

What: Ford 400

Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway; Homestead, Fla.

When: Sunday, 3:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN, 2 p.m. ET

Jimmie Johnson celebrates his first Cup championship at HMS in 2006. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 90

Track layout: 1.5-mile oval

Race distance: 267 laps/400.5 miles

Frontstretch: 1,760 feet

Backstretch: 1,760 feet

Banking in straights: 3 degrees

Banking in turns: 18-20 degrees

2010 winner: Carl Edwards

2010 polesitter: Kasey Kahne

Today’s polesitter: Carl Edwards

Website: homesteadmiamispeedway.com

Taking sides

Several drivers were asked who they think will leave Homestead with the big, silver, ugly trophy this evening.

Here is what a couple said:

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 49 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “Man, coming here I think Carl (Edwards) has a bit of the upper hand, just based on past history. I think Tony’s (Stewart) chances are very strong, especially on how they have been running on the larger tracks, but I think I put a little bit of weight in past history at this race track.”

Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet: “It would be easy to say that Carl’s got

Jeff Gordon picks, well, good question. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Christa L Thomas)

the edge, this is his track, the Roush cars have been so strong at the mile-and-a-half tracks, he has a three point advantage. To me, Tony has just taken it to them. I don’t know what happened there at the end of the race last week, but Carl kind of got the edge on him right at the end, but Tony had it for a good part of the race, led the most laps and he did everything you needed to do and he’s going to have to do that again this weekend, but why shouldn’t he? He’s been doing it the last several weeks. It’s really hard to say who’s got the advantage. I would lean a little bit more towards Carl, but I’m pulling for Tony. I think that he’s a two-time champion, he’s a guy that when he sets his mind on something, watch out. He can do amazing things.”

Trivia time

Tony Stewart has competed in all 12 previous races at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Name the three other drivers in today’s field who also have driven in every HMS Cup race.

Keys to success

Howard Comstock of Dodge Motorsports offers the keys to success for drivers at HMS:

THROW THE BOOK OUT: I think first practice will be closer to the conditions we’ll see Sunday night. We won’t have that midday sun to contend with. Midday sun has a big effect on any track we race at, some worse than others. This place, it does have a big effect.

“For the last three years, we’ve seen ‘em change the start time of this race, so we don’t have a good book on how racing into the night is going to effect the track. We were originally going to practice last night,

Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

but rain canceled all of that. Now, the only practice we’re going to get before the race is during the daylight hours. That’s going to have a big effect on the team trying to figure out how this track is going to change as we race from a 3:15 start to more like a 7 o’clock finish. I think that’s going to be a big challenge for the crew chiefs and the engineers to conquer.”

RAIN AND CLEAN RACE TRACK: “Fortunately, here at Miami, we see that all the time. I think we’ve probably got a better book on that than we do on the daylight to nighttime change in conditions. It gets faster when it gets dark like many tracks do. Grip levels go up and all of that’s good, but everybody is going to get faster and you’ve got to be able to get faster than everybody else if you want to conquer this thing.”

TO BE FAST AT NIGHT DO YOU HAVE TO GIVE UP A LITTLE IN THE DAYTIME: “It’s the adjustments you’re going to have to make as the race progresses that are going to be important. If you’ve figured out what adjustments to make at what time and physically what time on the clock, I think you can be successful. But if you get a little bit behind, sometimes it’s hard to catch up. Sometimes, you overshoot and you end up with bad handling.”

Trivia answer

Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon and Bobby Labonte join Tony Stewart as drivers in today’s field who have driven in all 12 previous HMS Cup races.

Up next

The next race on the Sprint Cup schedule is the 2012 Daytona 500.

Trevor Bayne won the race this season and Carl Edwards was second. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the pole and was joined on the front row by teammate Jeff Gordon.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 20 2011
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