Sprint Cup Series
Ford 400 - Homestead-Miami Speedway - Homestead, FL
No, we're not doing the countdown for a rocket launch.
It's the point separation between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart heading into the Sprint Cup Series season-finale on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Edwards currently holds a three-point lead over Stewart. They are the only drivers who remain in championship contention.
With a newer and simpler scoring format this year, Edwards' present lead over Stewart roughly translates to 13 points under the previous points system. That makes it the slimmest margin between the top-two drivers going into the final race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup since NASCAR began its playoff format for its premier series in 2004. It's also the third-closest separation since the inception of the position-based points structure in 1975.
Last year, Denny Hamlin held a 15-point lead over Jimmie Johnson when the series arrived at Homestead, which was the closest margin in the Chase finale. Johnson's second-place finish compared to a 14th-place run for Hamlin allowed Johnson to clinch his record-extending fifth straight Sprint Cup championship by a 39-point margin.
Edwards and Stewart have been duking it out in the last two races.
Earlier this month, Stewart won at Texas and moved to within three points of Edwards, who finished second there. The points margin between the two remained the same after Edwards placed second and Stewart third at Phoenix.
"It's fun when we're first and second in the points. and we're running first and second on the racetrack the last two weeks," Stewart said. "It shows why we're both in this position.
"We just got to keep doing what we're doing. We got to keep the pressure on. Two weeks in a row we've led the most laps, and I'm really proud of that. Proud of the pressure we're putting on him. A lot can happen in 400 miles [at Homestead]."
Edwards has finished no worse than 11th in the Chase so far this year. He took over the points lead after Kansas -- the fourth race in the playoffs -- and has remained atop the standings since then.
After winning the first two Chase races -- Chicagoland and New Hampshire -- Stewart lost his momentum by finishing 25th at Dover and then 15th at Kansas. He had dropped to seventh in the point standings. But Stewart has steadily bounced back since then, scoring five straight top-10 finishes, including victories at Martinsville and Texas.
"It's neat to me that Tony and the guys on the 14 are running so well, won so many races and performing on a high level," Edwards said. "It's going to mean more if we're able to beat them in this championship because of that, to beat Tony and those guys at their peak.
"I can truthfully say this is the best Chase we've ever had. We haven't gone out and got the trophies that we have in other Chases, but we've performed better than we ever have. If they're beating us, they're beating us at our best, and I think that's pretty neat."
If Edwards wins at Homestead, he will be guaranteed of his first Sprint Cup championship. Edwards has two victories at this track -- 2008 and 2010. He also has an average finish of 5.7 in seven races here.
"Homestead is going to be a lot of fun," he said. "I really enjoy racing there. The cool thing about Homestead, you're going to be able to move around, pass and not get hung up as badly in traffic as you can at other racetracks. For the sport in general, I don't think there's a better place to go than Homestead to fight for this championship."
Stewart won the first two Cup races at Homestead from 1999-2000, when the racetrack had a flat, rectangular configuration based on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's layout. Homestead, a 1.5-mile track, was reconfigured in 2003, with banking in the turns increased variably to 18-20 degrees.
Stewart's average finish at Homestead is 12.4. He is one of four active drivers in the series that has competed in all 12 races here.
"I like Homestead," he said. "It's a place that we had a lot of success when it was flat. We haven't got that win with it banked. I like the way that track races right now."
Stewart is attempting to win his third series championship. He won it in 2002 and '05. If Stewart clinches the title this weekend, he would join David Pearson, Lee Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough as the drivers with three championships. He would also become just the second driver and owner titleholder. Alan Kulwicki accomplished the feat first in 1992.
"It's just about getting four more points than he does; that's all that matters," Stewart said.
Stewart does have one advantage over Edwards in the title fight right now. If the two were to end up in a points tie after Homestead, Stewart would be awarded the championship based on his four wins this season -- all of them coming in the Chase. Edwards has only one win for the season, which came in March at Las Vegas, a track similar to Homestead.
Three-two-one. Who wants it the most?
"There would be nothing better than coming down the last lap side-by-side racing for the win; that would be really fun," Edwards said.
Forty-eight teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Ford 400.
Ford 300 - Homestead-Miami Speedway - Homestead, FL
After struggling during his rookie season last year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is on the verge of clinching the 2011 Nationwide Series championship.
Stenhouse enters the Nationwide season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a very comfortable 41-point lead over Elliott Sadler. They are the only drivers who remain eligible for the title. If Stenhouse finishes 37th or better, he will win the championship, regardless of Sadler's performance.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Stenhouse should clinch the title in the early going of Saturday's 300-mile race when the "start and park" drivers head to the garage for the day.
"Homestead is one of my favorite places to go, so I am looking forward to it," Stenhouse said. "Last week, we were able to gain some points in the driver's championship, so we can be more aggressive this week. I am confident that we can get this No.6 Ford back in victory lane and hopefully leave Homestead as the NASCAR Nationwide champion.
Stenhouse has recorded two wins and 25 top-10 finishes in 33 Nationwide races this season. Both of his wins came at Iowa -- May 22 and August 6. He's had just two DNFs for the year, which came at Talladega and Montreal.
Last week at Phoenix, Stenhouse led a race-high 73 laps but gave up the top position when he spun his tires on a restart with 61 laps to go. That allowed Sam Hornish Jr. to drive past him for the lead, as Hornish went on to win his first Nationwide race. Stenhouse wound up finishing fifth.
Sadler's championship hopes essentially faded away when he was involved in a five-car accident and ended up finishing 27th at Phoenix. Jason Leffler bumped into the back of Sadler and spun him into the outside wall. He entered the penultimate race 17 points behind Stenhouse.
"Last weekend in Phoenix was disappointing for the entire team when we were involved in a late-race incident that took us out of contention in the race," Sadler said. "We're going to head to Homestead ready to give it everything that we have for the win."
While the driver's title looks pretty decisive, the battle for the owner's championship is as good as it gets entering the last race of the season. Only one point separates Joe Gibbs Racing's No.18 team from Roush Fenway Racing's No.60 team.
Carl Edwards is scheduled to drive the No.60, even though Edwards is in a very tight points race with Tony Stewart for the Sprint Cup Series championship.
Denny Hamlin is replacing Kyle Busch in the No.18 at Homestead.
Following Busch's incident with Ron Hornaday Jr. in the Camping World Truck Series race at Texas earlier this month, there had been speculation that sponsor Z-Line Designs asked JGR to replace Busch with Hamlin for Homestead. Team owner Joe Gibbs said last week at Phoenix that it was a team decision to put Hamlin in the Nationwide car while Busch focuses on his Sprint Cup efforts.
Busch has won the last two Nationwide races at Homestead.
Forty-eight teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Ford 300.
Camping World Truck Series
Ford 200 - Homestead-Miami Speedway - Homestead, FL
The Camping World Truck Series will kick off NASCAR's "championship weekend" at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Friday night's 200-mile race should be an entertaining one, with three drivers still in title contention. Austin Dillon currently holds a 20-point lead over Johnny Sauter and a 28-point advantage over James Buescher.
Dillon -- the grandson of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress -- is attempting to become the youngest series champion at 21 years of age. He would also be the first driver to win the series' rookie-of-the-year title and clinch the championship in consecutive seasons.
If Dillon finishes 16th or better at Homestead, he will wrap up the title, regardless of any other driver's performance. He would also clinch it if he finishes 17th or better with at least one lap led...or 18th or better with the most laps led.
Dillon finished 31st in his first race at Homestead last year. He started on the pole and led 11 laps but was involved in an on-track incident during the closing laps of the event.
"The pressure isn't too bad, actually," Dillon said. "I like racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and my finish last year doesn't reflect how good our team is at that track. We led laps and had one of the fastest trucks all day but were involved in a late-race incident and it cost us a good finish. We know we are capable of doing what we need to do there. I hope we are celebrating at the end of the race."
Dillon has posted two wins -- Nashville and Chicago -- and 15 top-10 finishes so far this year. His two DNFs during the season came at Daytona and Michigan.
Sauter has scored two top-10 finishes in four starts at Homestead. He placed third in last year's race here.
"All you can ask for is a shot, and I'm privileged right now," Sauter said. "It's a pretty tall order, 20 points, but there are a lot of competitive trucks out there. It's a full field and a tough road for anybody to hoe. We just need to sit on the pole, lead laps and win. That's the coolest thing about racing; you just never know how it's all going to turn out."
Buescher has finished either 18th or 19th in his three races at Homestead.
"The team is going to Homestead-Miami Speedway with one goal, which is to win the race," Buescher said. "We have had a great year, and I can think of nothing better than to cap it off with a win. We know we have to get the most points we can in order to have a shot to win the championship. We have proven we never give up."
Had he not failed to qualify for the February 25 race at Phoenix, Buescher might have been in better contention to win the truck championship. Buescher has recorded 19 top-10 finishes in 23 starts. He has yet to win a race in the series.
Ron Hornaday Jr. would have been in the title fight at Homestead as well had it not been for Kyle Busch intentionally wrecking him in the early going of the November 4 race at Texas. Hornaday trailed Dillon by 15 points heading into Texas, but after his 34th-place finish there, he dropped to 48 points out of the lead.
"I wish we were in the middle of the championship battle, but we are not, so we will race hard and do what we have to do for the win," Hornaday said.
Hornaday will celebrate a career milestone at Homestead, as he will make his 300th start in the series. This will also be Hornaday's last race with Kevin Harvick Inc. KHI is in its last year of truck competition.
Kevin Harvick's win at Texas allowed KHI's No.2 team to clinch the owner's championship. Harvick is scheduled to drive the No.2 truck at Homestead.
Busch will not be competing in this race. Denny Hamlin is slated to drive the No.18 truck. Busch won last year's race here.
Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Ford 200.