Homestead-Miami

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After 35 races of what has been long season, the NASCAR Sprint Cup season regrettably comes to a close this week at Homestead-Miami.

Usually at this juncture of the season, with football going on and college basketball just starting, I’m happy to take a breather from NASCAR for a few months, but not this year.

Every week just gets better and better with new wrinkles to the season like veterans fighting, crew chiefs talking smack and most of all, meaningful racing.

Every race down the stretch has been significant, making this one of the greatest seasons in NASCAR history. We have three drivers separated by 46 points, the equivalent of a driver winning a race and finishing eighth, with one race to go.

The drama played out by the three drivers last week at Phoenix was gripping television that you don’t see too much out of NASCAR. This week, the stakes are even greater.

Denny Hamlin has a small 15-point lead over defending four time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson (pictured) and a 46 point lead over Kevin Harvick. Each of these drivers is capable of winning the race, which adds more to the excitement.

In each of the years Johnson won, he just coasted around Miami points racing with hopes of not wrecking and staying out of trouble. This week, all three will be going hard for the win.

The Las Vegas Hilton Super Book has updated their odds to win the title with Hamlin a 5-9 favorite, followed by Johnson at 8-5 and Harvick at 10-1.

Beginning in 1975, since the current point system has been in place, only two drivers have won the title while coming into the final race trailing. Richard Petty did it in 1979 and Alan Kulwicki did it in 1992, probably the only year that could compare with the excitement of this season’s Chase.

The edge on paper goes to Hamlin just because he won this race last season and comes in as one of the most sound teams in NASCAR right now. Every part of their operation is excelling right now, and it was just two weeks ago that they won on a 1.5-mile track at Texas.

Although the Miami track is shaped more like a paper clip rather than the traditional D-shaped ovals like we see on all the other 1.5-mile tracks, they still will have an edge over most of the other teams.

The only problem I see with Hamlin is the mounting pressure that his crew chief Mike Ford put on their team. Following their Texas win that elevated Hamlin to the lead in points, Ford made a lot of comments about Johnson’s team and how they psyched out his crew and how they basically threw their season away.

Are you kidding Mike Ford?

Do you really believe Johnson, the four-time champ and the coolest, calmest driver in NASCAR who has anti-freeze running through his veins is going to be psyched out?

If anything, all Ford did was motivate the No. 48 team, giving them bulletin board material. That kind of stuff usually doesn’t work out so well in other sports. And if Johnson wins another Chase Championship this Sunday, it’s going to be a facial served like never seen before in NASCAR.

What’s surprising is that the statements made came from a Joe Gibbs employee who was always adamant about keeping Redskins players’ mouth’s shut before big games.

Because Johnson has never had to race too hard at the suburban Miami track, it adds to the whole drama of what will happen. In last year’s race, while Johnson finished fifth in cruise control, Harvick finished third.

There will be several others who are equal to them and won’t budge an inch for them beginning with the Roush drivers.

Carl Edwards got his first win in two years last week at Phoenix. His last win before Sunday came at Miami in 2008. In fact, prior to Hamlin winning last year, a Roush driver had won the previous five Miami races and six of seven.

Jeff Gordon is mired in a 64-race winless streak and Miami is the only place he has never won. Another driver who has been racing very well lately is Hamlin’s teammate, Joey Logano, who has five consecutive top-10 finishes and three straight top fives coming into this week.

I’ve been rooting for Hamlin and Harvick all season, but because of the brashness of Hamlin crew chief, I’ve all of a sudden jumped on the Johnson bandwagon despite having wagers on the others to win the Championship.

I’ll take Johnson to finish third with Hamlin seventh and Harvick eighth. Both Johnson and Hamlin will lead a lap which makes the projected difference of 19 points giving Johnson the title by a mere 4.

The role of teammates will be seen in new regard, similar to what we see in Formula One racing. Positions are everything this week. Enjoy the race!

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