Scenarios For Chase Race 10 @ Homestead


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By Peter Carcia
TheRacingExperts.com Lead Reporter
11/17/2010


 
        The 2010 season had its ups and downs. Attendances to the races were drastically lower as both the recession and “bad car” environments caused fans to walk away from the sport. Yet the racing was probably the best in the COT era as the new green white checker rule was clearly in full force for the bulk of the races. Surprises and comebacks were evident in the making, as two failing teams, Rousch-Fenway and RCR piled on wins that many people never expected. Now, with one race left, we reflect on the one thing the whole sports universe is talking about, is an upset on the horizon?

            Many thought coming in that Denny Hamlin couldn’t hold the point lead because of Jimmie Johnson’s amazing success in Phoenix coming in. Before the last round of pit stops, the momentum flipped, seeing that Hamlin was up top with a 10 point bonus day secured. Then, a controversial move by the 11 team forced the closest chase in history, period. Only 46 points separate the top three drivers after Kevin Harvick went from the edge of elimination to back in it. Now, we could be seeing a legitimate three way battle for the win to get the glory as the teams embark on the 1.5 mile track famous for season finales.Homestead-Miami Speedway, the road of memories, comes alive again for the crowning of a champion. Unlike year’s past however, we don’t know who’s going to win it!

 

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1.) #11 Denny Hamlin (6462 / Lead)

2010 SPRINT CUP SEASON STATS:

  • 8 Wins
  • 2 Poles
  • 14 Top 5’s
  • 18 Top 10’s
  • 2 DNF’s

            Denny Hamlin was on fire in Phoenix until a move of conservation caused him to finish 13th instead of gaining on Johnson. God knows what was going on in that tank, and whether the outcome would have been any better if he had stayed out, but just the fact that he was able to wiz by the field like that in the end and leading that much in the first place caught my eye. Look back to last week; Hamlin had an average finish that was about par, as in the finishes the other chase drivers that have fallen would have gotten. Last Sunday, he went by the field like the man he’s been chasing this season, and that is a very good sign.

            Last year at this point seemed to be the beginning of Hamlin’s turn to success. Sure he qualified bad and took a while to bring himself up to the field, but he stayed consistent throughout, giving him the win. Sure it was simply a win in a race where he had no chance at the championship, but it was a turning point according to Hamlin and his crew; a sense of momentum that carried on into the 2010 season.

            Now, the stakes are even higher for Hamlin. Denny Hamlin simply needs to wins at any cost. We haven’t seen all that these three have to offer at a crucial part of their careers in Homestead . With Harvick at his arguably best track omit the restrictors in the COT era, and Johnson, where we have no idea the tricks in his hat, it is all about a win right now. That is the only way for him to ensure that the series victory is his. If that can’t happen, he’ll need to be on as much of a sprint as possible on the final 10-20 laps pending the caution situation.

            Considering that Hamlin and crew chief Mike Ford were in a fuel-conservative move, it’s hard to tell whether it would be a good idea here; the main point being the amount of cautions in the race. This is where the decisions get tough to handle. While a quiet race is good so that there is less traffic and it will be easier since Hamlin has done well in the past with crawling up the field, it is a tough situation to put your driver into. The longer exit road on pit lane makes it tougher to stay on the lead lap and the added time could affect the position if a driver waits too long, as Hamlin did last week. Still, having the edge not only on gas, but on tires as well could help him out later on.

            Meanwhile, a race with a lot of beating and banging could have its impact too. The added cautions could make reeling in the field easier, yet it is now you who is the victim of older tires, and pending on how everyone else’s car is running, could hurt you big time.

            Mainly, it could all depend on what the other 2 drivers do. If one driver does something, find a way to beat it. Now that the main focus is holding onto a short lead, all he needs to focus on is staying ahead of Johnson, and making sure he doesn’t get too far behind Harvick.

  • Finished 13th and 1st in last two Homestead races
  • 10.60 Career average @ Homestead (5th among active drivers)
  • Must win to lock championship

 


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2.) Jimmie Johnson (6447 / -15)

2010 SPRINT CUP SERIES STATS-

  • 6 Wins
  • 3 Poles
  • 16 Top 5’s
  • 22 Top 10’s
  • 4 DNF’s

            Last year, I don’t think anyone would have thought that it would come down to this. Jimmie Johnson, one race left in the drive for five, and he is 15 points behind the driver people raised eyebrows to, but never considered to lead it this way. Johnson had begun the season on a hot streak, with 3 wins in the first 5 races. Somehow, he fell backwards, starting with a late wreck in the Talladega fall race. Suddenly, the luck of the 48 team went dangerously low. A speeding penalty at Dover ; a victim of AJ’s wreck atDarlington ; all of these brought the drive for five to a sudden tailspin. Through all of that though, the team had enough of a cushion to stay in the chase, and took 2 more wins to bring his season momentum higher. After a win at Dover however, he started to lose races he usually had in the bin like Fontana and Martinsville , and found himself gasping for air in the final half of the chase. Yes, there has been a lot of pressure this year for the 48 team, but they have seemed to stay calm.

            This race coming up will be very much a feeling you don’t often see in Johnson’s average season. Normally, all he has to do is stay out of the garage to ensure the championship. You could tell last year since he gave up a lead on the pole to make sure he kept in gear. Unlike those days however, he is begging for a win to take the Sprint Cup away from an opponent, something he hasn’t done since championship number one in 2006. Because of that, Jimmie Johnson hasn’t won at Homestead in his career through nine starts on the circuit. That could change however this week, as Johnson battles in the race of his life.

            The main thing he can do here is not to get over his head. We all know how Jimmie Johnson is, he loves to be up front, and can only go forwards if he isn’t. This could hurt him in the long run for him if he doesn’t have to power forward to stay on top. Denny Hamlin has good moments when he wants them, but he takes a little while to get in the picture. If he starts up front, lead a lap and then only run in a spot where you need to be in order to stay in the point lead. Obviously that means he needs to lead if Denny is in the top 4 or so, but trust me, if Jimmie wants to pull the move he did in Phoenix , he’ll need every drop he can save.

            We don’t know what to expect from Johnson, but whatever it may be, look out.

  • Finished 15th and 5th in last two Homestead races
  • 12.67 Career Average @ Homestead (9th among active drivers)
  • Must finish 6 spots better than Hamlin to win championship
  • If winner, Johnson is locked in for championship

 


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3.) Kevin Harvick (6416 / -46)

2010 SPRINT CUP SERIES STATS-

  • 3 Wins
  • 2  Poles
  • 15 Top 5’s
  • 25 Top 10’s
  • 1 DNF

            A year ago, this was the cap-off race to a horrible year for Kevin Harvick and the rest of the Childress Racing Team. Through the chase, it was all about looking forward to next season, and trying to rebound. Beginning at Daytona, the 29 team did exactly that, smashing through fields and being a warning for the competition in a way we hadn’t seen from Harvick in years. The stats say it all; only ten races did Harvick not finish better than tenth and just twice, Martinsville in the spring and Atlanta in the fall, he needed to take it behind the wall. Harvick ended the regular season with three wins and a 200+ point lead shattered into a 30 point deficit.

            Through the chase, Harvick went from a bad attitude to a good one, as he ran through the field enough to stay in contention, and even though he’s in third place, it’s not bad that he is able to stay within 50 of the greatest rivalry of the decade.

            Coming into Homestead , the main focus is now to stay within reach. Harvick isn’t always a guy who qualifies the best when on a hot streak, but last year, he found a way to do so, staying up towards the front for the bulk of the race and getting the theoretical bronze medal. He needs to do that and more here, especially when 46 points are at steak between two drivers instead of one. There’s really only one thing I can say about the track itself: what a better time to bring out Homestead for Harvick than now. In 9 starts, Kevin has never finished worse than 20th, and with an 8.44 career average, watch out.

            The one thing Harvick needs to look at is the whole picture. A main example is the week when Denny Hamlin got the points lead in Texas . Kevin Harvick was chasing Johnson for so long and getting it done to beat him, he forgot about the fact that he was third in the points and not second. The result was a scramble in the final races to remain within striking distance coming into Homestead , and the fact that the number is 46 shows as a growing pain. Harvick must be aware of both drivers before celebration.

            Kevin hasn’t really been in this situation in the decade of Winston / Sprint Cup racing, but 46 points doesn’t mean you should count him out by any means.

  • Finished 2nd and 3rd in last two Homestead races
  • 8.44 Career Average @ Homestead (2nd among active drivers)
  • Must finish 12 spots better than Johnson and 17 spots better than Hamlin to clinch championship
  • If winner, Johnson must finish 5th or worse and Hamlin must finish 8th or worse

 

It’s been a great season, and now it has come to a close. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the airwaves in February for the Budweiser Shootout, but until then, I’ll see you out on the track!