This Weekend's Race Can Turn The Sport Around
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It just keeps on getting better and better from a NASCAR fan’s perspective this year.
With the closest Chase for the Cup battle in NASCAR history, the term “boring” cannot be applied to this year’s battle for the Championship. Johnson has now cut the lead Denny Hamlin had going into Phoenix from 33 points to a mere 15 points. If Johnson can repeat with at least a 16 point advantage over Hamlin at Homestead this Sunday night, Johnson will win an impressive, unprecedented fifth championship in a row.
But the “Drive for 5,” infamously called, is in serious jeopardy. In the last four years, Johnson has had a somewhat comfortable lead heading into Homestead-Miami. This year, behind 15 points, and with third place Kevin Harvick 46 points back as a potential wild card, Johnson’s championship run could come down to either the last pit stop or a fuel mileage run.
As we saw in Phoenix , Johnson gambled and stretched his fuel mileage to over 80 laps. Sure, he lost a few positions on track in the final laps, but his 5th place run gained on Denny Hamlin who limped home 12th.
For Hamlin, he must qualify well on Friday. Even though his team is notorious for starting mid-pack, he is coming in as the defending winner. Hamlin has a sway of momentum going into the race.
Hopefully Sunday will be a great day for TV ratings for both ESPN and NASCAR. Sunday, either way, will make history in NASCAR. According to what I’ve heard, in the modern era for NASCAR (1972-PRESENT), only twice has the leader of the points going into the finale lost the championship at the end of the day. If Hamlin wins the championship, it will mark the first time Toyota will be at the Sprint Cup pinnacle. It will also mark Hamlin’s first championship in any of NASCAR’s three major touring series. If he can hold Johnson and Harvick off, this will be owner Joe Gibbs 4th NASCAR title, as he won with Bobby Labonte in 2000, and with Tony Stewart in 2002 and 2005.
Now, when ever you see something close unfold, there is always that “what if.” In this case, “What if Kevin Harvick can pull of the championship from 3rd place, 46 points back?” This would definitely shock the NASCAR world. Harvick is a NASCAR Nationwide Champion, and he was the regular season champion before the points were reset. If he can pull this off, Harvick would win his first championship at the Sprint Cup level. This would give owner Richard Childress an unbelievable 8th Sprint Cup championship, as he won seven with the late Dale Earnhardt.
At the end of the day, two drivers will hang their head in shame wondering if they could have done something different on the track. This years’ championship run is giving those fans who have doubted the Chase of the Cup a reason to tune in. It might be hard to pull fans from watching the NFL games this Sunday, but for the loyal fans, this is like Christmas day for them: they have no idea what they will get, but it will be something amazing.
Despite “The Great Recession” impacting the sport at the wrong time, perhaps this year, the last nine races, and perhaps this last race is what might turn the sport around. This race, might be the turning point for the ratings and give NASCAR hope for 2011.