This is it. The final showdown. Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson have gone toe-to-toe all throughout the Chase, and it all gets settled on Sunday.
Both drivers are separated by a mere 10 points, and … wait a second, I forgot the AdvoCare 500 happened. Back to reality, Johnson has a nearly insurmountable 28 point advantage going into the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. I did not expect Kenseth to lose many points on Johnson, but thanks to a couple 20 second pit stops and an ill-handling racecar, the driver of the 20 car had to settle for a mediocre 23rd place finish, while Johnson came home third.
With that being said, Kenseth is more than likely going to have to win the race and rely on Johnson slipping out of the top 25. Is it possible? Absolutely. Is it going to happen? Definitely not. Johnson will nonchalantly hang around in a comfortable position inside the top 15 to easily secure his sixth championship.
As much as I hate to admit it, as far as the championship battle is concerned, it might be a real yawn-fest on Sunday, with Johnson nearly guaranteed to become “Mr. 6 Pack.”
However, the same can’t be said about the other drivers who will be looking for a win. Here a few drivers you should keep an eye on, and one of them might end up in Victory Lane.
Recent history at Homestead-Miami Speedway has shown that Edwards has been one of the drivers to beat at that track. Over the past five races at HMS, he’s scored two wins (2008 and 2010), three top fives and four top 10s. He’s also led over a third of the laps he’s completed during that time period, and he has an average finish of a stunning 4.6. Edwards also has a couple wins this year, but they both came on tracks 1-mile or smaller. Can Edwards bounce back from the fuel debacle last week and end the season on a high-note? It’s very likely.
Kevin Harvick has been a formidable contender on the 1.5 mile tracks this year, posting victories at Charlotte and Kansas. He also won last week, thanks to Edwards’ misfortunes. As far as his recent history at Homestead-Miami is concerned, Harvick hasn’t won in his last seven starts there, but he’s been very solid, notching four top fives and six top 10s. He’s also scored the second most points of any other driver during that time period, and has an average finish of 6.9. Harvick had a solid eighth place finish at the 2012 event, and I expect him to better that performance on Sunday.
Although Homestead-Miami Speedway has been mostly dominated by Roush Fenway Racing throughout the years, Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports went to victory lane last year, and he could repeat his performance. Over his past 10 starts, Gordon has posted one victory (2012), six top fives, eight top 10s, and an average finish of 9.8. He’s finished in the top five in his last two trips to HMS, so look for Big Daddy to replicate that kind of performance.
Expectations for Matt Kenseth
The way I see it, Kenseth has two choices going into Sunday. First choice, he can put an aggressive set-up on the car that will maximize his opportunity to win the race, but could cause mechanical failure, which could drop him to third in the final standings behind Kevin Harvick. Second choice, he can shoot for a solid top five run and ultimately put up the white flag of surrender to Johnson and settle for second place.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that Kenseth will all but certainly choose the first choice. Kenseth still has a infinitesimally minuscule slimmer of hope left to win this championship, and the only way to stop Johnson from becoming six-time is to lead the most laps and win the race, and hope that Johnson somehow stays out of the top 25.
When everything is said and done, I fully expect Johnson to be hoisting the championship trophy, with the final points margin being somewhere around 10-15.