Home » HEADLINE, NASCAR - Sprint Cup Series

Homestead Features Contenders For All Seasons

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, November 20 2015
A fifth championship for Jeff Gordon would make a lot of race fans quite happy. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

A fifth championship for Jeff Gordon would make a lot of race fans quite happy. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

It’s championship week in Sprint Cup and an interesting championship field it is.

At the beginning of the season – and, certainly – at mid season, the make-up of this final four would have been tough to predict.

bugopinionThe only non-surprising entrant would have to be  Kevin Harvick. Not only was he  the defending champion, his team was clicking and his Stewart-Haas Chevys had warp speed.

The other three Championship Rounders were at those points, meh.

Before the Chase started: Jeff Gordon had not won and had just three top-five finishes; Kyle Busch had missed the first 11 races of the season and when he came back, he came back hot but then went tepid; Martin Truex Jr. had a consistent spring in terms of top-10s but then encountered a mid-season funk.

During all of this, there was a fair sized list of other drivers who were just plain better – drivers
like Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.

But thanks to a set of bizarre and, in a couple of instances, unseemly, circumstances, the field for Sunday’s championship-deciding, season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway was established.

The following is not a prediction on the outcome of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship – predicting winners of automobile races is a null set because of factors beyond competitors’ control – but a doping of the field in terms of story lines.

– The best feel good champion would be: Gordon. No driver since Earnhardt Sr. has

Jeff Gordon has one more chance to win won more championship. (File photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jeff Gordon has one more chance to win won more championship. (File photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

meant as much to NASCAR. His is the face of modern Cup racing. He never purposely set out to change NASCAR from a regional product with a checkered reputation into a product with national appeal. It just worked out that way.

When he embarked on his Cup career back in the early ’90s, he was despised by the old schoolers in the Southeast. To them, gnarly old rude boys like Earnhardt, David Peason and Junior Johnson were what racing was supposed to be about.

When a “pretty boy” from California/Indiana started blowing past their feats and records, Gordon became an animosity magnet. In the grandstands, that is, not the garages as The Intimidator himself loved Gordon.

Gordon won four championships and won them sans bravado and that too, may have irked the campground denizens.

Times have been lean for Gordon in recent years, however. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson out-Gordoned Gordon on the track and in the quiet hero department.

And an interesting and predictable thing happened in recent years. Gordon, with career past peak and undeniably world class, began hearing cheers from the grandstands. Fans thoroughly understand Gordon’s talents and contributions to the sport. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Winning a championship in his final season in Cup would be the ultimate feel good story.

– A victory for fans but not for NBC Sports: Truex Jr. Everybody loves the little guy. The hard-working, small-arsenal competitors that have the tenacity of a terrier and the quiet

Martin Truex Jr. is the underest of underdogs.

Martin Truex Jr. is the underest of underdogs.

cool of an old hound dog.

You know, Rudy.

In Sprint Cup, that would be Furniture Row Racing and Truex.

The team’s story is well known. One car, one driver, based in Colorado and no seeming business chasing a championship on the final weekend of the season.

Then there’s the driver. Quiet, private and a personal life tinged with saddness and heartbreak.

Truex took a beating last season after taking over for Kurt Busch, who was given sole credit for lifting FRR from afterthought to an feared site when viewed in the rearview mirrors of even the uppermost stars in the sport.

When Busch split after one year to take a job at mega Stewart-Haas Racing for the 2014 season, and Truex was hired to attempt to take his place, the wags kissed FRR off in a great big hurry.

Truex’s wonderful 2015 run gives little-guy lovers a reason to cheer at Homestead.

His presence in the Final Four, however, can’t be all that thrilling to NASCAR’s broadcast partner. While a good story, Truex and FRR are not a sexy story. His presence in the Championship Round puts higher Q rating drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards in supporting roles.

But for those who side with overachievers who exude class and dignity while doing it, they have their man in Truex.

– Rootable for being king of the hardest road: Kyle Busch. Let’s face it, rooting for Busch in the past has been tough. The guy is abrasive as cinders. He doesn’t smile, he doesn’t

Kyle Busch's remarkable post-injury Chase chase was a thing of beauty. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Kyle Busch’s remarkable post-injury Chase chase was a thing of beauty. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

make eye contact, he doesn’t endear.

He just drives the bejeezus out of race cars. He has been the best wheelman in Cup who has not won a championship.

There must be a sizable portion of the fanbase out there who hope that changes on Sunday. For a couple of reasons. First, those who appreciate driving talent have got to be at least giving tentative support for Busch.

But there is added allure for the younger Busch brother this weekend. The way he has overcome severe injuries incurred during Speedweeks in February and kept him out of the car for the first 11 races of the season has been inspiring.

The OR to Homestead run also seems to have marbled in a streak of likability to Busch’s persona. In fact, it kind of seems to have given him a personality. His post-victory on-track exaggerated bows seem less in-your-face this year. Smiles haver replaced smirks. Humility has worked its way into his act.

In the past, it might have been tough to impossible to root for Busch in the season finale. This year, the kid with the ‘tude would be more than acceptable as Sprint Cup champion. He’d be worthy and he be accepted.

– The best champion for those who dig bullies and cheats:  Harvick. First off, it’s a racing sin that Harvick is in the Final Four at all. Indeed it’s perplexing that he’s in a Cup car

Kevin Harvick seems to love a good brawl. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by David Tulis)

Kevin Harvick seems to love a good brawl. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by David Tulis)

at all in light of the penalty that was visited upon Matt Kenseth a couple weeks ago as that driver was heading for a spot in the final four.

Kenseth was parked by NASCAR for deliberately wrecking Joey Logano when both were still in the Chase. Kenseth’s motive was anger and revenge – two things that have long been part of auto racing.

Harvick’s crime – deliberately crashing another car on the green-white-checkered restart at Talladega to bring out a caution that allowed him to advance into the third round of the Chase – was much more manipulating and much more threatening to the integrity of the sport. It was Peter Rose gambling on baseball.

If Kenseth was parked for two races for a crime of passion, Harvick should be parked for more for rigging an outcome.

But when it comes to Harvick, there has always been the air of schoolyard punk. From his public pseudo-mind-game needling of Logano in last year’s Chase pressers to hot headed physical assaults on drivers who actually possess the ability to control their tempers, Harvick has to to be voted Chaser most likely to stick a foot out and trip one of the other Chasers as they mount the pre-race stage.

Should he finish on top of the heap on Sunday, those who see beauty in a smirk or a snide comment will have their champion.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, November 20 2015
No Comment

Comments are closed.