Logano, JJ, Edwards, Kyle Busch the final four for the NASCAR Chase

November 15, 2016 3:04 AM
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The long and grueling NASCAR Sprint Cup season that began in February will finally come to an end Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway where the 2016 Champion will be crowned.

Last week’s race at Phoenix gave us the final two pieces of Championship 4 with Joey Logano winning and 2015 champion Kyle Busch finishing second. They’ll join six-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, who already clinched a berth by virtue of each winning a race during the Round of 8.

None of the four championship eligible drivers have a point lead for Sunday’s race. They’re all tied and the eventual champion simply has to finish better than the other three.

While there are 36 other drivers competing for the win, the last two seasons have seen the eventual champion win at Homestead with another eligible driver finishing second.

Kevin Harvick held off Ryan Newman in 2014 and last season Busch led the final six laps to finish just ahead of Harvick.

Sunday’s race will have so many great storylines for each of the Championship 4. We’ve got Busch trying to be the first repeat champion since Johnson in 2010 while Johnson is attempting to win his seventh championship, which would tie him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most in NASCAR history.

Edwards has been the series runner-up twice, the last time in 2011 when Tony Stewart won the race to beat him. And then there’s Logano who looked to be on his way to a title last season, but was taught a tough lessen during the Chase by a veteran as a form of payback. He’s paid his dues and certainly is worthy of being a champion.

All four of the drivers are worthy of being champions. This season there wasn’t any one driver that dominated, or stood out above everyone else.

Five drivers are tied for the series-lead with four wins and nine drivers won multiple races. The entire season was very balanced with not one driver really standing out, which made it an outstanding season overall, maybe one of the best ever because of so much parity.

Let’s take a look at each driver’s resume and what makes them a good candidate to win on Homestead’s high-banked, 1.5-mile, paperclip-shaped oval. It’s the 11th race this season on a 1.5-mile track, but the layout is unlike any other on the circuit.

Jimmie Johnson: He’s already considered one of the best drivers all-time with his 79 career wins, but seven titles puts him in an entirely different category in an era that is much more competitive than any other in NASCAR history.

He won four races this season, but it was a real struggle for the team going winless from Race 6 all the way to Race 30 when he broke through with a win at Charlotte, which was his second win on a 1.5 this season.

The odd part about Johnson and Homestead is he’s never won there in 15 starts. Part of the reason was because the old Chase format had a point structure and he could coast through without having to win. But still, no wins on this type of track is alarming for someone of his caliber. He’s finished ninth there the past three seasons.

Kyle Busch: The Las Vegan battled hard at Phoenix just to have the opportunity to defend his title this week. He led the series with 17 top-five finishes and was second-best with 1,378 laps led. He won four races on the season, two of which were on 1.5-mile layouts (Texas and Kansas).

However, his last win was 15 races ago at Indianapolis. He’s finished sixth or better in his last three starts on 1.5s. His Homestead win last season was his first in 11 starts and elevated his average finish there to 21.1.

Carl Edwards: His 9.3 average finish position at Homestead is the best among the Championship 4 drivers. He won there is 2008 and 2010, but he hasn’t had a top-10 in his last four.

What makes him such a good candidate this week is because he’s been outstanding in his last two starts on 1.5-mile tracks. He led 61 laps at Kansas last month and finished second, and then two weeks ago he won at Texas, which halted a 23-race winless streak.

Joey Logano: His Phoenix win last week was his first there and third win of the season. His 25 top-10 finishes are second only to Harvick. Like Edwards, Logano ran extremely well in the last two races on 1.5s, finishing third at Kansas and runner-up at Texas where he led a race-high 178 laps. Last year he had a career-best fourth-place at Homestead.

Twitter: @MicahRoberts7