Ford EcoBoost 400
November 11, 2014
By Micah Roberts
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There were 16 drivers that began competing in NASCAR’s new Chase for the Sprint Cup format 10 weeks ago at Chicagoland and were down to the Final Four this week at Homestead. The best finish among the four eligible drivers wins the 2014 Championship.
Kevin Harvick has been posted by the Westgate SuperBook as the 8/5 favorite (Bet $100 to win $160) to win the championship followed by Joey Logano at 9/4, Denny Hamlin at 13/4 and Ryan Newman at 17/4. No points carry over from the eliminator round. It’s now head-to-head for all the marbles. While the eventual winner doesn’t have to win the race to win the title, there’s a strong possibility that one will win just because two of the drivers competing have been the among the best on 1.5-mile tracks this season.
There have been 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season and for the most part, there weren’t many surprises. Harvick won at Charlotte in October and also finished second at Kansas (May), Charlotte (May) and Texas (Nov). He also has led the most laps on 1.5-mile tracks this season while dominating every one of those practice sessions to the point where he looked to have the best car in all of them. Harvick is not only the favorite to win the Championship, he’s also favored to win Sunday’s race.
Logano grabbed wins on 1.5-mile tracks at Texas (April) and Kansas (Oct) and has four other top-5 finishes on them. Between he and teammate Brad Keselowski, Penkse Racing has won five of the 10 races on these type of tracks. After perhaps being rushed to the Cup series too quickly by Joe Gibbs Racing, where he was expected to some day win a championship, Logano has proven how good he is this season and is on the verge of finally winning the a Cup championship.
Denny Hamlin grabbed his only top-5 finish of the Chase last week at Phoenix and has been consistent throughout, but now he’s got to try and beat the Penske duo and Hendrick engines on a 1.5-mile track, something he hasn’t been successful at doing this season. His only top-5 finish on these type of tracks came in August at Atlanta. His team hasn’t had the power all season and they’re going to have to be creative to get some this week.
But Hamlin does have a couple of advantages. For one, his crew has been by far the best during the Chase. They routinely have the best pit stops, so while he may be losing speed to the big horsepower teams on the track, he’s gaining a second or two on them in the pits.
This track has also been kind to Hamlin. Of all the 1.5-mile tracks on the circuit, Homstead stands out as being the most unique and unlike the others with progressive banking and being in the shape of a paper-clip rather than the traditional tri-oval. Last season Hamlin struggled on the 1.5-mile tracks while his Joe Gibbs teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth were dominating on them, but closed the season out with a win at Homestead. Hamlin also won at Homestead in 2009.
Harvick, Logano and Newman have never won at Homestead, but Harvick has been the closest with two runner-up finishes and two other third-places. Logano had his best career run last season with eighth-place while Newman was third in 2012.
Newman is the most unlikely of the Chase contenders because he hasn’t won a race all season. The new Chase format was designed to force drivers to win more, but he’s shown consistency still has it’s place in the sport. If he were to win the title without winning a race, he would be the first Cup champion ever to do so. To beat the other three drivers, he’s going to have find a little more power under the hood. He’s been solid all season on 1.5-mile tracks -- 15th or better in the last eight -- but he’s going to be overmatched.
The top drivers on 1.5-mile tracks this season that aren’t eligible to win the championship have been Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch have also fared well. While Busch hasn’t won on any of them this season, he has finished fifth or better in the last three, which should be a good sign for teammate Hamlin.
The smart pick is either Harvick or Logano to win the title, but I’m going to go for Hamlin to somehow find a way to finish better than the other three. I’ll also take Jeff Gordon to win the race, and watch out for Johnson who was dominating at Texas using a set-up package for 2015 that was discovered during a test session at Homestead a week prior.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #24 Jeff Gordon (7/1)
2) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
3) #11 Denny Hamlin (18/1)
4) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)