Jimmie Johnson will find himself in another familiar position at Homestead-Miami Speedway this Sunday of not having to race hard while nursing his point lead.
Johnson has never won at Homestead over his career because in past situations there, he’s just trying to stay out of trouble. On Sunday, all he has to do is finish 23rd or better and he’ll win his sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title in eight seasons.
The likelihood of Johnson winning the title is so great that the LVH Super Book has taken their championship odds off the board, citing Johnson’s lead too large. Last week with only a seven point lead, he was 1-to-5. What would his odds be with a 28-point lead over Matt Kenseth? Maybe 1-to-25?
However, there is small window of hope if rooting for Kenseth or Kevin Harvick who sits third, 34 points back. Johnson’s last two races at Homestead didn’t go very well, finishing 32nd there in 2011 and 36th last season while battling Brad Keselowski for the Championship.
It’s unlikely that Johnson will fare as poorly, but it’s still something that has to be dangling around in his head. Taking the Championship is inevitable, but winning the race is unlikely just because he’ll be in cruise control mode with no intentions of mixing it up with the leaders. He’ll play it safe and keep himself in position to always be out of harms way.
The drivers to look at on Homestead’s 1½-mile high banked layout are the ones that have been good at 1.5-mile tracks all season, like Kenseth who has four wins, or Harvick and Kyle Busch with two each. However, Homestead is a little different from the others because it’s shaped more like a paper-clip instead of the tri-oval layout. It’s raced on only once a year, so there is a bit of mystery attached that makes it an exciting race to watch.
Carl Edwards’ sixth place average finish in nine starts is the best among all drivers. He won there in 2008 and 2010. His teammate, Greg Biffle, won three straight at Homestead from 2004-06, but his fifth-place finish last year was his best run there since his last win.
Harvick has never won at Homestead, but his 7.9 average finish in 12 starts is better than everyone but Edwards. He’s been runner-up twice and finished eighth or better in seven of his last eight starts there. He’s on a roll and has to run as hard as possible to take advantage of any error or misfortune that may fall upon Johnson.
For Harvick, it’s all about winning and leading the most laps this week, and he’s go the team and car to do it. It’s a shame he will be leaving Richard Childress Racing and joining Stewart-Haas next season. This is his last run in an RCR car, which was the famed No. 3 he took over following the passing of Dale Earnhardt in 2001, and he’s having perhaps his best season. When looking at how poorly the Stewart-Haas car looked this season and how well Harvick ran in a lame duck situation with RCR, you have to believe there is a little regret for Harvick, or at least some doubt about how he’ll run in 2014.
Look for a storybook ending to his RCR career with him riding off into the Miami sunset with a win.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].