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Season finale to settle tight championship battle
Location: Homestead, Fla.
Distance: 1.5-mile tri-oval
Banking/Turns: variable (18-20 degrees); Banking/Straightaways: 4 degrees
Race Date: November 21
From the Spotter’s Stand
The real winner in Miami isn’t the driver who takes the checkers and does the hat dance; it’s the man who seals the deal on a Cup title following the final race of the Chase — and then does the hat dance.
Denny Hamlin took his Toyota to victory last season, breaking a streak of five consecutive Ford wins, including three straight by Greg Biffle (2004-06). Hamlin took the lead on Lap 223 of 267 and cruised to his fourth win of the season by a comfortable 2.632 seconds ahead of Jeff Burton.
But the driver who took the most post-race pictures with NASCAR czar Brian France was Jimmie Johnson, who made history by winning his fourth consecutive Cup title. A fifth-place finish at Homestead was good enough to break a tie with Cale Yarborough, who won three straight Cups from 1976-78.
Johnson will once again attempt to make his history in Homestead, as he’ll square off with Hamlin and Kevin Harvick to decide the 2010 Sprint Cup. JJ has never won at the 1.5-mile oval, but he has partied in South Beach with crew chief Chad Knaus and the 48 team each of the past four years, despite finishing fifth (2009), seventh (2007), ninth (2006) and 15th (2008) in the race itself.
Like Johnson, Harvick has no wins, but has pieced together a solid run of finishes, having recorded seven top-10 finishes in nine HMS starts — including his last performances of second and third.
Since South Florida began hosting the season finale in 2002, the leader in the point standings (2002-03) or the Chase (2004-present) has never clinched a Cup title with a win at Homestead.
Crew Chief’s Take
"I think the racing at Homestead is as good as anywhere now. My God, that track was such a disaster when it opened. They shaped it like Indianapolis, only smaller, but they didn’t realize that squared-off corners are just dangerous on a track that’s a mile and half, not two. So they rounded the corners, and then stage three was tapering the banking in the turns. It took a bunch of money and revamping, but they got it right. It’s a lot like Atlanta back before Bruton (Smith) rebuilt it, but it’s really unique because it doesn’t have those old, sweeping Atlanta turns."
Looking at Checkers: It’s hard not to assume the three title contenders — Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick — won’t decide it amongst themselves.
Pretty Solid Pick: Carl Edwards leads the circuit with a 6.5-place average finish in the Keys.
Good Sleeper Pick: Johnson hasn’t had to race for a win here in five years, so it’s hard to say exactly how good he’ll be. The safe bet is he can hold his own.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: This is one of only two tracks where Dale Earnhardt Jr. has not recorded a top-10 finish.
Insider Tip: Roush-Fenway had won five in a row here until Hamlin broke up the party in 2009.
Classic Moments in Homestead
Bill Elliott catches his 21-year old Evernham Motorsports teammate, Casey Atwood, with four laps to go and earns his first win in 227 races in the 2001 Pennzoil Freedom 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Atwood, a young upstart from Nashville, Tenn., leads 52 laps in the Ray Evernham-owned No. 19 Dodge but can’t hold off the veteran Elliott, whose previous win had come in the 1994 Southern 500.
Elliott wins three more races with Evernham — including the 2002 Brickyard 400 — before parting ways after the ’03 season. Atwood is not so fortunate, as Evernham replaces him in the No. 19 the following season with Jeremy Mayfield. Atwood, in turn, is placed in the Jim Smith/Evernham-owned No. 7 car, more or less an R&D vehicle. Atwood is out of the Cup ranks a little over a year later.
2009 Top 10
1. Denny Hamlin
2. Jeff Burton
3. Kevin Harvick
4. Kurt Busch
5. Jimmie Johnson
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Carl Edwards
8. Kyle Busch
9. Martin Truex Jr.
10. AJ Allmendinger
Denny Hamlin — 71
Kevin Harvick — 56
Kurt Busch — 43
Tony Stewart — 43
Jimmie Johnson — 29
Jeff Burton — 19
Marcos Ambrose — 4
Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Michael Waltrip — 1
by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush