Matt Kenseth needs a miracle. For starters, he must run beyond his 13.8-place average finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend, but a little luck in the name of a bad Jimmie Johnson outing would be the supplemental boost needed to overcome a 28-point deficit and win his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Johnson hasn’t ever won at Homestead, so maybe it could happen? The No. 48 team has never won at Michigan either and they finished 28th and 40th in the two races there this season. Kentucky is a new track on the Cup calendar, but Johnson hasn’t tamed it, instead getting himself crashed while sitting on the front row during the race-deciding restart in this season’s race.
Some tracks just tend to be Kyptonite to drivers, which means even Superman (Johnson, in this scenario) isn’t impervious to struggles. At least that’s what Kenseth fans should tell themselves.
P23 Johnson needs to finish 23rd or better to clinch his sixth Cup Series championship.
It’s fun to point out that Homestead is one of five tracks that Johnson hasn’t conquered — Michigan, Watkins Glen, Kentucky and Chicagoland round out the list — and it’s creative to think that maybe the No. 48 team might play a little too conservative and miss the setup completely, allowing for Kenseth to step in and seize the opportunity.
Fun and creative aren’t necessarily factual, though. Yes, Johnson finished 36th and 32nd in the last two Homestead races, but he did manage to lead in each of those events. He ranked 11th in average running position (11.2) last year.
Additionally, Johnson and team scored the sixth-most points across the last five races at Homestead, trailing only the teams of Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex. Needless to say, Johnson is a better Homestead driver than many give him credit for.
Based on past relevant averages, Johnson is slated to finish seven positions better than Kenseth this weekend, winning the title by 35 points over whom Chad Knaus referred to two weeks ago as Johnson’s most formidable competitor of the last two years. For Kenseth to scoop up a championship, he’ll need some sort of bizarre mechanical failure to take place underneath the hood of the Lowe’s Chevrolet.
Third for Third Kevin Harvick is on the cusp of finishing third in the season-long point standings for the third time in the last four years.
If he pulls off the feat, he will join a list that includes Mark Martin, Benny Parsons, Lee Petty, James Hylton and Speedy Thompson in becoming a three-time, third-place point finisher (Martin, Hylton and Thompson did it four times).
No doubt hungrier for more than the third-place platter provides, and likely a reason he’ll move to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, Harvick’s consistency with Richard Childress Racing over the last four years has been impressive; in 130 out of the last 143 races (90.9 percent of the time), the No. 29 team finished inside the top half of fields, a mark that tops the Cup Series over that span. He enters the Homestead race a heavy favorite, ranking second in the track’s Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) and being the only driver and team to score a top-10 finishes in each of the five Homestead races of the CoT era.
34.9% Carl Edwards has led 34.9 percent of the total laps at Homestead in races dating back to 2008.
Edwards’ presence ensures that Ford isn’t without a serious combatant on Ford Championship Weekend. Slump or shine, Homestead has been a welcome site for Edwards, who ranks first in track-specific PEER, and crew chief Jimmy Fennig, who has scored at least one top-10 Homestead finish with four different drivers (Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, David Ragan and Matt Kenseth).
3 out of 5 Edwards’ No. 99 car has ranked first in average green-flag speed at Homestead in three of the last five years.
In 2008, 2010 and 2011, Edwards was the fastest car on the South Florida racetrack, leading to finishes of first, first and second. In the other two years, he ranked 12th, en route to a seventh-place finish, in 2009 and third last season, when he finished 12th. The Bob Osborne-designed setup was seemingly passed on to interim crew chief Chad Norris last year in a down season. It’s likely that the No. 99’s elite speed will keep this Sunday.
29.8 Juan Pablo Montoya holds a 29.8-place average finish in the last five races at Homestead.
Montoya made his first career Cup Series start at Homestead in 2006 and likely makes his last Cup Series start this weekend at the same track. The facility hasn’t brought out the best in the former Formula 1 driver — he ranks 46th out of 49 drivers with two or more starts in track-specific PEER — but he’s been bucking his career trends all season long, complete with near-wins at Richmond and Dover. A shock oval victory prior to his leap into IndyCar in 2014 would become his most memorable NASCAR moment, trumping a jet dryer explosion in the 2012 Daytona 500.
40, 5 and 26 Mark Martin has had a Hall of Fame-worthy career, complete with 40 wins, five runner-up point finishes and 26 seasons, out of 28, with serviceable production.
Martin told the NASCAR press corps last weekend at Phoenix that he doesn’t have any plans to go racing next year, other than in an off-track consulting role with Stewart-Haas. If it’s true, it’s the end of a masterful career for, arguably, the best driver in series history to have never won a series championship.
David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.
Photos byAction Sports, Inc.