It’s hard to believe it but the longest season in sports is just about over with. In a few days, three new NASCAR champions will be crowned. Matt Crafton leads the Camping World Truck Series standings and only needs to start the race in order to clinch his first title. Austin Dillon is the points leader at the Nationwide level with Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. stalking him from only eight points back. The owner’s title is still up for grabs as well and will come down to Gibbs’ No.54 car versus the No.22 of Penske Racing. In Cup, 5-time champion Jimmie Johnson can almost taste his 6th Cup and only needs a top 23 finish to ensure the crown is his but Kenseth and Harvick will be ready to pounce just in case the unthinkable happens and that No.48 stumbles. Here’s a breakdown of what is at stake in the season finale, who the players are and my predictions regarding who will emerge victorious when the checkered flag falls on 2013.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
As I previously mentioned, this battle is all but over. Matt Crafton has only won a single race this year but 19 top 10’s in 21 races is more than enough to compensate for the lack of visits to victory lane. He leads Ty Dillon by 46 points and when he takes the green flag Friday night, it will preclude anyone from challenging him no matter what happens during the race. This is Matt’s 13th full-time season in the Truck series and to finally win that first title will be such a relief for him and his team. Speaking of his team, the fight for the owner’s title is not quite over with just yet. ThorSport leads by 23pts which is still a fairly comfortable margin but the man and team chasing them happens to be Kyle Busch who has won four races and posted seven top five’s in just 10 starts this season. Yeah, he’s kind of a big deal when he shows up at these Truck races.
My Prediction: The No.3 team will not lock Matt Crafton up in a Port-O-Potty and he will easily win the driver’s title with probably another top ten finish to end his impressive year. I also believe that ThorSport will hang on against the hard-charging Kyle Busch and his No.51 team to win the owner’s championship.
NASCAR Nationwide Series
Austin Dillon is a former Camping World Truck Series champion and his opponent is a former winner of the Indianapolis 500; Sam Hornish Jr. A mere eight points separate these guys and a slip up by one will all but hand the title over to the other. Dillon wants it because he’s moving to the Cup level in 2014 and Hornish wants it because, well, he currently doesn’t have a ride for next year. The owner’s standings is an even closer battle with just four points between the top two and things have gotten fairly hostile between the rival teams as of late. Joey Logano will pilot the No.22 for Penske Racing which is currently in command of the points while Joe Gibbs Racing wisely has Kyle Busch in the No.54 car. An interesting detail that should not be overlooked is the fact that Penske is entering a third car in the race which will be driven by none other than Brad Keselowski who has vowed retaliation against Busch for spinning him out at Kansas. Will he fulfill his promise? I highly doubt it but will he do everything he possibly can to make Kyle Busch’s day a living hell? Of course he will! That’s why he’s in this race…to take points from that No.54 and the No.3 as well as do his best impression of a moving roadblock when necessary.
My Prediction: This will be the most enthralling title bout of the weekend and Austin Dillon will win the driver’s title with a top five finish while the No.54 steals the owner’s championship from Penske by winning the race.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Jimmie Johnson is at it again! After winning five straight championships and taking a two year hiatus from the big table in Vegas, the California native is closing in on the #SixPack. Three drivers mathematically have a shot at taking home the hardware but it is going to take a catastrophic failure on the No.48 or a crash to even give gentleman Matt and the pugnacious Harvick a chance. It’s unlikely but can definitely happen though. Jimmie may seem infallible but in reality, bad luck can just as easily bite him as it can his adversaries. In fact, his last two finishes at Homestead are 36th and 32nd. In 2011, he spun out with what was an awful car and in 2012, he suffered rear gear failure so don’t fool yourself into believing this thing is over with. Remember, this is NASCAR. We set race tracks on fire and break our ex-teammate’s back; okay. If Jimmie were to have some unforeseen issues that consequently costs him the title, imagine the dogfight we would have between JGR newbie Matt Kenseth and lame-duck Kevin Harvick! RCR hasn’t won the Sprint Cup championship since 1994 with Dale Earnhardt; that was nearly 20 years ago and it’s been a decade since Matt was last crowned champion.
My Prediction: Jimmie Johnson survives and wins his 6th championship but if he were to falter and it came down to the two guys chasing him, I think Matt Kenseth would prevail seeing that JGR has practically dominated most of the 1.5 mile races this year.
No matter which drivers and teams are able to call themselves champions when the day is done, I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed the 2013 season. It hasn’t been the best year in NASCAR’s 65 year history but it was certainly an interesting one. Good luck to all those chasing championships this weekend and may the best (or luckiest) man win!