Homestead, FL – Series: NASCAR Nationwide. Date: Saturday, Miami Speedway. Track: 1.5-mile oval. Start time: 4:30 p.m. (et). Laps: 200. Miles: 300. 2010 Winner: Kyle Busch. Television: ESPN 2. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Satellite.
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.
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.