Tag: Homestead-Miami Speedway

Ford EcoBoost 400 Observations

The call of a championship raised the performance for all four of the drivers going for the Sprint Cup Series title on Sunday. That was evident by all four being in the top-5 at multiple times during the race. Statistics and history was thrown out the window for the most part, but those pointed to Kevin Harvick winning, and that’s exactly what happened.

It wasn’t overall surprising to see Harvick capture the crown, given that the team has been fast every week. The only thing they could not get going was luck on their side, but they did it the correct way. Get all the bad luck out of the way early, then execute for the title. Interesting that the pit crew for Harvick was able to pick up their second championship, the first being with Tony Stewart in 2011.

Ryan Newman made a big statement in his second place finish that he did not luck his way into this battle. His team even improved up their performance as the race went on, going from losing Newman spots to gaining him spots on pit road. That was key to getting him close to the lead for the final stretch of restarts. This team has a lot to build on and I’m hoping there is not second place hang over.

For the team of Denny Hamlin, they showed a lot of guts making calls late to put them in a position to win. It was just worn tires were not his friend and the nail in the coffin was spinning his tires on the second to final restart. That made him loose track position he could never get back. It will be interesting what Joe Gibbs does with his crew chiefs, as a major swap seems evident.

While Newman’s crew came through at the end, Joey Logano’s team failed him at the end. Well, you can’t blame the crew too much for the side of the car giving way, but because of that, the car fell off the jack, and a lot of valuable time was lost trying to get it back in the air. He will be left with dwelling on what could have been had that executed as planned, but there is always next year.

This new format really puts the television producers in a small box for their finale coverage. Luckily I had a vested interest in two of the final four drivers, so I didn’t mind the extremely bias coverage of them. I could see how someone who was a Jimmie Johnson fan, for example, could get frustrated with the coverage. That said, it is the title and that is more important than whatever position Johnson (for this example) could have gotten. Tough spot for NASCAR and ESPN, but based on the early numbers, I don’t think many are complaining.

Congratulations are in order for Brad Keselowski, who is the first loser. He was able to rise to fifth place and with Jeff Gordon can just think about what could have been had they made it into the finale. Well, just hopefully they don’t think about that together, because that could get ugly.

As much as I would like a Super Bowl like feel of moving the season finale among many tracks, Homestead does provide a lot of action and options for drivers. You can run high, low, middle, and even push it four wide, and we didn’t see many big accidents because of that. The racing was hard and fast, just the way it needs to be for the title.

Looking at the history of close point battles, you could put this one at the top because of the one point difference between Harvick and Newman. Realistically that was fabricated by the rules, so I would throw that out on that level. Looking overall I would rate this as the top four best season finales: 1992 when Alan Kulwicki out smarts Bill Elliott, 2004 the first Chase where Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson all went neck and neck with Busch prevailing, this title fight, and the 2011 Tony Stewart/Carl Edwards duel that ended with Stewart rising the occasion.

Newman Ready To Be Spoiler

When the Chase for the Sprint Cup rule changes were announced before the start of the 2014 season, there were two things that would have been unbelievable. The first would be that a winless driver would be in the final four drivers for the championship, and one of those drivers would be Ryan Newman.

Here we are just days away from the start of the Ford Championship Weekend and Ryan Newman is playing the role of the underdog. He will contend against Joey Logano (five wins this season), Kevin Harvick (four), and Denny Hamlin (one) to fight for the title. Though he does not have a win under his belt this season, that is not going to keep Newman from being confident this weekend.

“It doesn’t matter to me. I mean, in the end it really doesn’t matter…the fastest car may not win, the best car on a restart may not win. You just never know. It could come right down to fuel mileage and three of the four of us could be coasting on the last lap. You just never know,” commented Newman after Sunday’s race at Phoenix.

How this team has performed should not have surprised anyone, it was former driver Jeff Burton who gushed about how close the team was just one year ago. “We’ve got really, really good people on that team, and we’re starting to perform. Truly, I’m walking away from it when I believe we’re about to blossom. I can feel it. I can see it.”

The Homestead-Miami Speedway has not been the best track for Newman in his career. His best run was a third place effort in 2012; beyond that it has been a sixth place in 2002, and a pair of seventh place finishes in 2005 and 2001.

That said, this year is different from his past few years. Consistency has been Newman’s best friend this season. This can be seen by exactly how he has found his way into the Chase. Comparing last season with Stewart-Haas Racing, to this season with Richard Childress Racing, his numbers are much better on intermediate tracks. Last season he had one top-5 and seven top-10 finishes, this year it is two top-5s and seven top-10 finishes.

The difference is the average finish, one year ago it was 16.50 and this season it has been dropped to 10.38. He’s completed 99.98% of the laps run this season versus 95.06, thanks to finishing every race versus two DNFs last season. Another big stat is he has spent 74.63% of the laps run in the top-15 this season versus 52.44% last year.

While the numbers don’t look great compared to the others going for the title, Newman has exposed one crucial side of himself this past weekend: he will do anything to put himself in contention for the title. As Newman said, “that’s part of the intensity of this Chase. It’s racing, man. That’s what we’re kind of supposed to do.”

And that is what they will do this Sunday in the Ford EcoBoost 400. Fans can catch the action at 3 PM EST on ESPN when the 2014 Sprint Cup Series championship will be determined after 36 grueling weeks.

Homestead Locking Up Season Finale A Bad Sign For New Schedule?

It was announced that the Ford Motor Company and Homestead-Miami Speedway have agreed to continue the Ford Championship Weekend through the 2019 season. This puts Homestead as the season finale for five more seasons and might dash the hopes of fans wanting big changes in the schedule. Continue reading “Homestead Locking Up Season Finale A Bad Sign For New Schedule?”

Commentary: Both Sides Of The Chase Debate

2014_NASCARStateOfTheSport_013014_FranceGraphic

It is now official that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have a new system in place to determine the champion. It has been hailed by NASCAR CEO Brian France as a simplified formula that will appeal to fans with its winner-take-all approach. According to their data, everyone is on board with the change. However there’s plenty of examples to the contrary.

When I started this blog, going on four years ago, there was an unintended consequence that took place. My view of the sport shifted from an extremely bias fan to someone who sees both sides of the coin, so to speak. I learned that to make it, I couldn’t come out and bash a driver or team without merit. With that said, as much as I dislike the direction NASCAR is going, I can see exactly why they’re going that way.

We’ll start right there with why they’re doing this. It’s no secret that ratings and attendance are stagnate in NASCAR. Feeling that the boom in attendance and ratings would continue forever, NASCAR didn’t think about what would happen when it stopped. The excitement that will come from each knock out round (something right out of reality television) should draw in causal fans and television networks. Add to that a simple winner-takes-all final race at Homestead and it’ll be guaranteed that will be the focus of many sports fans come November.

It is also a move against a point structure where a driver could not even win and still be champion. Putting an emphasis on winning has been a constant battle for NASCAR ever since 1985, when Bill Elliott won 11 times, but lost the title to Darrell Waltrip and his three wins. The emphasis has been placed on winning because doing so in the first 26 races gets you into the Chase. From there, if a driver wins one race during each knockout round, he or she will be guaranteed to move on to the next round. That sets up the stage for the final race where four drivers will be on equal ground. In years past, drivers would have such a point lead that simply showing up to the event made them champion. Now to guarantee they’ll win the title, they’ve got to win the race.

The biggest sticking point I am seeing about this new system is it seems to fly in the face of tradition when it comes to NASCAR history. I whole heartedly understand and believe that as well. That said, if you don’t evolve and keep moving, you’ll get left behind. As ESPN’s Marty Smith noted, this is NASCAR swinging at the fences to do something for not only the short term, but also the long term health of the sport. I applaud them for doing something proactively rather than retroactively.

The negatives of the system are a long booming list of what-if scenarios. Right off the bat, if the system was applied to 2013, your champion is Dale Earnhardt, Jr., a driver who went winless in 2013. How is that indicative of a system that rewards wins versus consistency? You can argue drivers would have raced differently with the new system in place, but it at least shows that wins don’t mean you’re going to win the title.

Something that bothers me about setting this up for a four way, winner-takes-all, royal rumble at Homestead is that NASCAR is manufacturing a “Game 7” moment. In 2011, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards dueled for the title, with Stewart winning a tiebreaker. That was real and that was special. What makes it special was you didn’t know it would happen until it happened. Now, you’re guaranteed every year it’ll be a one race shoot out. Exciting yes, but the luster is lost because you know it is coming.

If the playoff system will be like this for the next, who knows how many years, then NASCAR needs to go a step further. The final 10 race locations (or even just the finale) need to be changed on a yearly basis. If they are so insistent on comparing themselves to football, then they should look no further. Their championship game is played at a different venue every year. Sometimes it is played inside a dome, sometimes it is played outside in 80 degree weather, and this year it’s being played in frigid temperatures outside. Imagine the season finale being run at a short track or even a road course.

We saw last year at Richmond that teams will do most anything to get into the Chase. Michael Waltrip Racing tried, got caught, and were crucified. With that example, I would hope that no one tries to fudge the outcome of the Chase, but those questions will linger since Richmond and intensify this year. Is a driver racing hard to keep someone behind him to benefit a teammate? Is a driver not racing hard enough and letting someone by so they can advance? Now we’re getting back to ball and strike calls that I hate because they impact the outcome of the championship in a one race shootout.

My final thought on the matter is a simple one. I’ve stated it on Twitter and I’ll state it again here. At the end of the day for how much fans dislike this proposal (or like it) it doesn’t matter. Public opinion only factors so much into NASCAR’s decision and it’s a very simple situation all together. This is NASCAR’s sandbox. You’re welcome to play in it, but they make the rules. If you don’t like them, then you can always get out.

The approach I am going into 2014 with is “let’s see how this plays out.” If it is every bit as exciting as NASCAR hopes, then I’ll be happy to admit I was wrong in doubting them. If it ends the way fans fear, then I’ll be happy to admit I was right in doubting. Either way, we won’t know until the checkered flag falls at Homestead, and until then we just have to sit back and enjoy the ride.

More Than A Season Finale

Kevin_Harvick_13_Kurt_Busch

When the checkered flag flies in Sunday’s Ford 400 from the Homestead-Miami Speedway, more than just the 2013 season will come to a close. For some drivers it will be the end of tenures with their current teams and for others the end of their careers.

The most prominent driver to be hanging it up at the close of the season is Mark Martin. While the retirement word hasn’t been used, his talk with reporters is one that indicates the driving aspect of his career is over. “It is hard to believe that I’ve lived this dream. I’m so fortunate. I got two chances at it. I got a chance at it and had success and failed, and had to go and start my career all over again and spend several years getting back up on my feet and getting a second opportunity in NASCAR. It is really hard to believe. I am still – deep down inside, I’m still the kid from Arkansas that got the huge thrill the first time I went to Daytona as a spectator to watch the Daytona 500. I wasn’t even a teenager yet. I never dreamed I would be able to do the things that I’ve done and to have the success that I’ve had. It’s been a dream. Living a dream.”

Coming into the race under the radar of his final Sprint Cup Series start is Ken Schrader. The 29 year veteran has been running off and on the past few years, but has said that this will be it. Odds are he still might make a random Camping World Truck Series or appearance in another series, it won’t be the Sprint Cup Series. While not one of the more successful drivers on the track, off the track he’s earned the respect of fans and competitors alike.

Another driver stepping away from the Sprint Cup Series, but could possibly be back in a one off race scenario is Juan Pablo Montoya. After seven years in the Sprint Cup Series, which saw two career wins, Montoya is going back to his roots in the IndyCar Series. He will be driving there for Roger Penske, so coming back for a road course race will always be a rumor. “It’s hard to believe that seven years ago I raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for the first time. This race is special to me in a lot of ways; its home, my family and friends will all be there and it’s the last time I will race with Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Target. To be honest with you, it’s bittersweet and I’d like to have a good weekend for Target and the team. Nothing would mean more than a win this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”

While not retiring, just yet anyways, Jeff Burton will be stepping away from the full-time side of things in the Sprint Cup Series for a yet to be determined part-time ride in 2014. He will leave the Richard Childress Racing team after just over 9 years with them. During that time he was able to re-ignite his career with four wins from 2006 to 2008. He has struggled as of late, but that should not be a true reflection of his career. “I’ve been really blessed to do it for as long as I’ve done it to do something that you love and to be able to do it as long as I’ve done it really is a blessing.  When I was seven years old I wanted to be a race car driver.  I’m 46 and I’m a race car driver.  I’ve just been really blessed.  The cool thing is I’ve met so many people and experienced so many things that I never would have been able to do.  To have a chance to compete for a living is really is a cool thing.  You know what your job is and go out and try to do it.  Competing to me means something.  To be able to do it this long has been really cool.”

After helping Furniture Row Racing become the first single car team to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kurt Busch will be leaving at year’s end to join the Stewart-Haas Racing stable. Busch helped set marks for the teams with top-5s and top-10s, but was never able to get a victory. “This is our last chance to take the Furniture Row Chevrolet to Victory Lane. There’s nothing I want more for these Furniture Row guys who have worked so hard all year to give me a fast race car. Though we have a bunch of top-fives (11) and top-10’s (16) we don’t have that W.  A victory would cap off an already successful season for our single-car team. It’s been a great ride with a great bunch of guys and with an outstanding organization led by team owner Barney Visser. Each year when we close out the season at Homestead there is that nostalgic feeling of what happened in 2004 — winning the championship in the first year of the Chase. It was a magical time for me and I am looking from some more magic this weekend in my final ride with the No. 78 flat-black Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet.”

The man he’s replacing at Stewart-Haas Racing will be Ryan Newman. Newman is moving on to the Richard Childress Racing team after five years with SHR. In that time he’s won four races and qualified for the Chase three times. “I really look forward to Homestead. It’s a really fun racetrack for all of us. For us to go down there and end the season on a racetrack that is very raceable is something I’m happy about. They really did a great job the third time around on redesigning that racetrack. It’s a great place to have a championship weekend for all three series. I’ve not had the best record there, but we did finish third in this race last year. I’d like nothing more than to end the season on a high note and end the season on a good note for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

Also joining Stewart-Haas Racing is Kevin Harvick, who leaves the Richard Childress Racing team after 13 interesting years. It started off as Harvick being pushed into replacing the late Dale Earnhardt. Through squabbles and tribulations along the way, Harvick and his team were able to win 23 times. They finished in the top-5 in the driver standings five times and find themselves as one of the final three for this year’s title. “Homestead (Miami Speedway) has been a great race track for us, whether it was flat or banked. It’s been a race track where we’ve run well. It would be nice to close out my career at Richard Childress Racing with a win there and go out on the right note. RCR is where I got my start and it’s been a great career so far.”

Unplanned at the start of the year, Martin Truex, Jr. will be moving on from Michael Waltrip Racing after this race. He will go to the Furniture Row Racing team after four years with MWR. “I believe this NAPA team has nothing to prove. All we want to do is end on a high note and this track can certainly be the place that we can win. My guys have worked so hard for me over the last four years and I know they really want to close out our time together with a victory. To be honest, it’s been sad to see it end this way. We had such high expectations for all of us. If you really think about it, this year is only our second full season as a team for this group of guys and that’s impressive. We are really just getting started and moving in the direction that we always wanted to go. This NAPA team is such a great group of guys. It’s just unfortunate that we are not going to realize the full potential of this amazing team. All we want to do is go down swinging at Homestead. We want to use this race as a way to show everyone just how good we are and to thank NAPA Auto Parts for supporting and believing in this team. They deserve another visit to victory lane and it’s our plan to get them there on Sunday.”

While it is the end there is excitement for what the future might hold for all of these drivers. They’ll reflect on the season or career that was, but then get focused for what lies ahead.

Homestead Without Drama For Sprint Cup Finale

jimmie-johnson-nascar-daytona-500-victory-lane-2013

The slugfest between Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth is for all intensive purposes over after the AdvoCare 500 was completed Sunday. With Johnson’s third place finish and Kenseth’s struggle filled 23rd place finish the dynamic has shifted. Johnson enters the final race with a 28 point advantage on Kenseth. The only other driver math mathematically in the battle is Sunday winner Kevin Harvick, who is 34 points behind.

“Just excited to go racing.  I’m in a position I want to be in.  I want to go down there and need to defend the championship.  We’ve got a nice points lead so happy to be back on the West Coast.  I want to say hey to everybody in the stands.  Thanks to all those No. 48 fans out there and we will go to Homestead and race some more,” Johnson commented after the race.

Kenseth was on the opposite end of the spectrum from Johnson. “I’m disappointed, obviously with the way our season has gone and kind of being in the championship hunt, you hope to go down to Homestead and race for it on performance. On the other hand, I’m extremely happy. I’m really, really happy with my team. There’s not another car out here I’d want to be driving. It’s a special group of guys — we’ve had just an amazing, incredible season and we still have one week left.”

Being the wildcard in all of this, Kevin Harvick is happy that there’s a chance for him. “That is all you can ask for to happen (have a chance).  Anything can happen.  You have to be in it to win it and done a good job of winning races in the Chase and we will see what happens.”

To win the title regardless of what everyone else does, Johnson needs to finish 23rd or better without leading a lap. If he leads one lap, he can finish as worse as 24th. If he leads the most laps, he can finish at worst 25th.

Nothing is a lock as Johnson has been very up and down in his 12 career starts at Homestead. He has four top-5 finishes and seven top-10 finishes. That said his previous two races has been a 32nd (2011) and 36th (2012). While most will give Johnson the title, it’s not over until it’s over.

Nationwide Battle Comes Down To Homestead

Austin_Dillon_Sam_Hornish_Jr_2013

After 32 races it all comes down to this. At the conclusion of Saturday’s Ford 300 there will be a new Nationwide Series champion. Will it be current point leader Austin Dillon or second place Sam Hornish, Jr.?

After this weekend’s ServiceMaster 200, Dillon got a little bit more breathing room by adding two points to his lead. Hornish showed signs of not giving up, as a poor handling car made his team roll the dice to get him back up near the front. That move worked and showed that they will be a factor in the season finale.

Taking a look at both drivers history at the Homestead-Miami Speedway Hornish has the advantage when it comes to experience. His stat line is five career starts, one top-5 finish, two top-10 finishes, and he’s led nine laps total. Dillon has one start to his credit, but it was a good one. He started third, finished fifth, and led 66 laps.

Comparing last year’s Ford 300, Hornish finish fourth in that race to Dillon’s above mentioned fifth place run. Both led a lap, so using that as a guide, it would still be Dillon’s day. Judging by how their run was at Phoenix, it will be close, but I would give the advantage to the man coming into the race leading, Dillon.

For Dillon to win the championship regardless of what Hornish does he needs to finish third or better. At worst fourth with a lap led and at worst fifth with leading the most laps.

The best part about this is we can forecast what will happen, but that is why they run the races. Anything can happen. The Ford 300 gets underway at 4:30 PM EST and can be seen on ESPN2.