Miami finale

Nov 15, 2005 2:26 AM

This week will feature the 7th NASCAR Cup race run at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in sunny South Florida, but a few things remain relatively new when the NASCAR Nextel Cup series rolls into town.

Atlanta Motor Speedway used to be the series’ season finale but the track figured since there really wasn’t any drama late in the year and November is always the rainy season, it would serve them and their fans if they traded dates with another track.

Just as a backdrop, the Miami track is under the umbrella of International Speedway Corporation (ISC), a company that is owned by NASCAR. The company that owns Atlanta, the same corporation that owns Las Vegas, happens to be Speedway Motorsports Inc. (SMI), the bitter rival of ISC.

As the history of these two rivals has it, whenever SMI has made a suggestion to NASCAR to move or eliminate any of its own dates, NASCAR has always said no. But in this particular instance, Miami and NASCAR didn’t hesitate, and gladly gave away their late October date for the final race of the season. Atlanta and SMI should have been suspicious right away, but perhaps thought they were finally getting some cooperation.

All of sudden, the NASCAR marketing machine comes up with this great idea to help promote the final race of the season with a playoff format, something like a Super Bowl or championship game. They’ll call it the "Chase for the Championship."

The results have been staggering. Last season’s Miami race drew a 5.6 overnight rating and an 11 share, and for the first time ever beat the NFL head-to-head in Sunday ratings. The fact that it’s in Miami has nothing to do with the ratings success.

The only tracks that could possibly impact the ratings because of the site are Daytona, Talladega, and possibly Las Vegas, which always has a high ratings. If anything, Miami may discourage ratings because the city’s stereotype is everything that NASCAR isn’t.

The Miami track had a major transformation in the configuration and the surface when they made what was once a relatively flat slow track into a fast track with 20 degrees of banking around the turns. The change happened prior to the 2003 race and the drivers have said since then that the paper clip 1.5-mile track runs similar to the way Charlotte and Atlanta does.

Each year seems to add something new to the track and this season it happens to be the addition of lights.

To help create a festive championship feeling like the other major sports, Miami has added 12 giant light towers around the track and will go under the lights for the first time ever.

When is the last time we saw a World Series, Super Bowl, or collegiate champion win it all in daylight? The thinking by NBC is that if they can get a huge share in the day, how about going toe-to toe with 60 minutes when the chase is likely to be decided.

Let’s be real; NBC’s last rating winner on Sunday was "Blossom" and its last real rating winner overall was "Seinfeld." They’re in a slump as a network and need the late time start. Last season in the last half hour of the telecast the rating was at a 7.7 as Greg Biffle won.

Barring a total meltdown by Tony Stewart, he should win his second championship this weekend. Based on how successful he’s been at Miami over his career — on both Miami configurations — it looks like Jimmie Johnson’s only hope at capturing the title would be if Stewart experienced some engine failure or got involved in an accident.

Stewart is likely to play it safe this week and is not a great bet to win the race or beat any top flight driver in a match-up. I would look for Stewart to cruise in with a 7th place finish despite having a car capable of winning the race.

I see Jimmie Johnson driving his tail off, but coming up short in the final point tally, but possibly coming out on top in the race. The battle for the win should come down to any Roush driver you can name and Jeff Gordon.