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Ford EcoBoost 400 Preview
Could this really be the last race of what seems like a never ending season? We’ve got 35 races in the books with four drivers remaining. Who will be the 2015 Sprint Cup Champion? We’ve got two drivers that have won championships before and we’ve got two that are trying for their first titles.

I can make a case for either of the drivers to win, and I think I’d be happy for any of them. From a betting perspective with future tickets waiting to cash, most of us have a driver that we want a little more than the others just because we can bank some money for Christmas shopping. For a lucky few, they’ve got Kyle Busch at 100/1 odds after he had missed several early season races. There were quite a few sports books that thought Kyle Busch was finished, but he’s done the impossible so far to reach the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Here’s a small capsule on each of the contenders -- kind of like a tale of tape for this NASCAR championship bout. The Sprint Cup odds to win listed next to the drivers name is what the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook re-posted on Monday afternoon.

Jeff Gordon (15/4) has four Cup trophies, but none since 2001 -- before the Chase format while series still called "Winston Cup." This is his final Cup season. He’s saying goodbye. His Swan Song. Can you imagine how thrilling its going to be if he walks into the sunset with his fifth championship? Even the most devoted Dale Earnhardt fans, who jeered and hissed Gordon his entire career, will have a tear budding should Gordon walk away from the sport in such brilliant fashion. Could we really see a walk-off champion? He’s the only driver to have started all 16 Homestead races and won for the first and only time there in 2012. Despite it taking a while to cross off his bucket list, he was always very competitive with a 10.6 average finish.

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Kevin Harvick (3/2)
comes in as the favorite as the defending Cup champion and Homestead race winner. He won both at Homestead last season, a first for the Bakersfiled, CA native. He is Homestead’s all-time leader with a 7.5 average finish -- 12 top-10 finishes in 14 starts. When looking at the body of work from the No. 4 team on 1.5-mile tracks this season, you’d have to say Harvick has a great shot at duplicating what he did last season. He finished third at Texas two weeks ago and has a win at Las Vegas, three second-place finishes and a fourth among the previous 10 races on 1.5s. He’s been beating these guys all season on these type of tracks. Why should Sunday be any different.

Kyle Busch (11/4) will be the local favorite this week as the Las Vegas native can bring a championship home to the strip. I’ve lived in Las Vegas since 1980, and the city hasn’t had a lot to root for in sports we can call our own. We don‘t have many banners as champions the city can get behind. Sure Las Vegas is the best of many things in the culinary and resort world, but we don’t really get excited for that stuff like the way sports makes us feel. We have UNLV Men’s basketball champions in 1990, some minor league hockey achievements, Floyd Mayweather and Kyle’s brother Kurt Busch’s title in 2004, but then it all goes back to being Elvis, Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin for city pride. Kyle Busch can bring a major sport championship to the city and I’m hoping he does. He’s finished in the top-five of the past two races on 1.5-mile tracks and he won at Kentucky in July. Everyone starts at zero this week. No points. It’s just about beating the other three of the Championship 4.

Martin Truex Jr. (13/4) is the most improbable of the group. His Denver Mattress No. 78 team is an incredible story as they‘re doing the impossible in NASCAR -- a single car team competing for the title. They also are the only Sprint Cup team that doesn’t operate out of the Charlotte area. These guys roll in and out of Denver every weekend. Truex Jr. has a 10th-place average finish at Homestead with a career-best runner-up in 2006. He’s been very good on 1.5s this season including leading the most laps at Charlotte in May and being runner-up at Las Vegas. If you’re looking for the bright-eyed championship feel-good story, Truex Jr. is it.

So while those four are running their little race for a trophy, the main race is still about who will win. I mean, really, that’s what most of us will be betting: Who will win the EcoBoost 400 at Homestead. The Sprint Cup is a nice story, it’s the end of the season and I’ll keep an eye on who is winning that battle, but I’ll have more immediate and pressing action with the race going on between all 43 drivers to win the race.

Homestead’s layout is different from all the other 1.5-mile tracks. Its got a paper-clip shape with 20 degrees of variable banking through the turns. Does it resemble Charlotte, Texas, Chicago, Las Vegas or none of them? All those 1.5-mile tracks have something similar to Homestead that the crew chiefs will apply, but this is still a different world within the 1.5 ranks.

Still, because of the distance and speeds obtained, we’ve seen quite a few drivers that stand out under the same scenarios. Joey Logano won at Charlotte and Kansas and might have won at Texas if not for some poor luck with tires. Harvick is favored to win, but Logano looks like the smartest pick of all, even though his best Homestead finish has only been eighth-place (2013).

In four of the first 10 races on 1.5s this season, Jimmie Johnson has come away with victory. He’s been the best so far on them, or at least in the win category. The problem this week is that he’s never won at Homestead. He’s had 14 starts and has averaged a 14th-place finish. The bulk of his career wins have come on 1.5-mile tracks, but Homestead has denied him. On several of those occasions he was racing for a title and under the old Chase rules, drivers came into the final race with big leads and could coast with no real pressure.

This week we also get Matt Kenseth back in action and he‘ll be a contender to win as well. Kenseth led 153 laps at Kansas before Logano bumped him and started some fireworks. Kenseth paid the price and served the time. Logano learned an expensive lesson. Now it’s over and time to move on. Kenseth won at Homestead in 2007 and has an 8.7 average finish in his past 10 starts there.

Carl Edwards is a two-time winner here and his former Roush teammate Greg Biffle has three wins. Tony Stewart and Biffle each lead the way with three wins at Homestead. Stewart also won the first Cup race ever on the track in 1999, when it was a flat layout modeled after Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Let’s not forget about Denny Hamlin this week. He has two wins (2009, 2013) with a 10.8 average in 10 starts. Hamlin kicked off the Chase with a win at Chicagoland, then finished fourth at Charlotte and second at Kansas. He can win and the price is right at 15/1 odds.

Top-Five Finish Prediction:

1) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (8/1)
4) #11 Denny Hamlin (15/1)
5) #20 Matt Kenseth (7/1)

  
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