It started with 16, dwindled down to 12, cut down to eight, and then there were four.
The 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship will be decided this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway between Jimmie Johnson (won at Martinsville), Carl Edwards (won at Texas), Joey Logano (won at Phoenix) and Kyle Busch (pointed his way in).
Since this Chase format came into existence, the winner of the championship has also wound up winning the race. This weekend, the Ford EcoBoost 400 will go green just past 2:30 p.m. ET with television coverage on NBC (and supplemental coverage on NBCSN).
In 2014, Kevin Harvick won for the first time at Homestead, snagging his first championship. In 2015, Kyle Busch did the same. In 2016, there is only one driver in the same position as Harvick and Busch (winless at Homestead and looking for their first title): Logano.
The driver of the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske is the hottest out of the four. Coming off his win at Phoenix, he proclaimed that his team was “going to go win this thing.” Confidence in the No. 22 camp is plentiful. But let’s take a closer look at Logano’s stats at the 1.5-mile track.
His average finish at Homestead is 17.7 (16th-best). In seven races there, he has one top 5, two top 10’s, one pole and two DNF’s. Not stunning numbers, but solid ones nonetheless. He was perhaps a broken jack away from winning the title in 2014, and if he delivers on Sunday afternoon, he’d become the youngest NSCS champion in NASCAR history.
Next we have Carl Edwards. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing snuck his way into the Championship Four thanks to a win at a rain-soaked Texas two weeks back. He has the best overall statistics at Homestead, boasting an average finish of 8.8 (fourth-best), accumulating two wins, five top 5’s, seven top 10’s and two poles in 12 races. He also has the highest driver rating out of the four at 109.4 (driver rating is basically QBR for NASCAR).
His teammate over at JGR is Kyle Busch. As mentioned, he is the defending winner of this race—and champion. In 11 races at Homestead, he has earned one win, two top 5’s and four top 10’s. However, his average finishing position is 21.1, only 23rd-best in the series. The No. 18 team can rely on their notes from last season, but they can’t rely on their teammates to help them out for the first time all season. The JGR powerhouse of Hamlin, Edwards, Busch and Kenseth been developing some friction in the past couple weeks with the stakes so high, so it’ll be fascinating to see how that dynamic plays out.
And finally, we have the six-time champion in Jimmie Johnson. The man who is on the cusp of racing immortality and securing his record-tying seventh Sprint Cup title. If he delivers, he will tie two of the greatest race car drivers to ever live: Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty. But even though he has secured six titles down in South Beach, he’s yet to win. He has four top 5’s, 15 top 10’s and two poles in 15 starts at the 1.5-mile oval. If he wins this weekend, he will be crowned the 2016 champion—and that’s exactly what I think he will do.
That’s right, JJ is my pick. But don’t sleep on the non-Chasers. This year, the field of the non-Chasers is stronger than ever. With drivers of high caliber such as Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin in the field, the Championship Four party can get spoiled in the blink of an eye.
Also, let’s give a call to Tony Stewart. It’s been low key, but he’s suiting up for his final race of his illustrious career, spanning almost two decades. He might get overshadowed by the race for the trophy, but one thing is for sure: Smoke won’t be forgotten, and he’s not leaving either. Being a co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, he’ll be in the garage week-to-week, and will still race late models and sprint cars in his free time. He can’t—and won’t—stay away.
Enjoy the race(s) this weekend, everybody. It’s the final one of 2016. In the blink of an eye, 35 race weekends have come and gone. This season has been one for the books, and I can’t think of a better way to cap it off than with a sensational season finale from Homestead!
The XFINITY Series will crown a champion of their own this weekend. Elliott Sadler, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Justin Allgaier make up the Championship Four. The Ford EcoBoost 300 will take place on Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET) on NBC.
The Camping World Truck Series will crown a champion this weekend as well. Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters make up the Championship Four. The Ford EcoBoost 200 will take place on Friday night (8 p.m. ET) on FS1.