So, The Homestead-Miami Finale is Here…Who’s It Gonna Be?
The 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup is down to its final event, and the elimination process over the past nine playoff races has honed the field down to the “Final Four.” Other than the early exit from the Chase by Martin Truex Jr., the unfortunate struggles of Kevin Harvick, and the last-minute knock-out of perennial front-runner Matt Kenseth, many would agree that the Chase format has achieved its purpose of selecting four durable candidates to compete for the crown next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The four contenders accounted for more than a third of the season-to-date race wins (14 of 35), with Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch grabbing four, and Carl Edwards and Joey Logano three each. Five of these 14 wins came in the playoff rounds, with Johnson and Logano each winning a pair and Carl Edwards taking the checkers in one. So while it sounds like each driver in the quartet has the momentum needed to win the finale, it’s interesting to note that Homestead-Miami is statistically not their best track. Edwards owns a pair of wins there (2008 and 2010), while Busch is the only other contender to take the checkered flag at this highly competitive track. Three wins in a span 15 years means that none of these drivers would be considered a regular in the winner’s circle there.
Let’s take a look at each of these drivers and their records at Homestead-Miami, and we’ll start with two-time Homestead-Miami winner Edwards.
Edwards has the best average Homestead-Miami finishing position of the four, at 9.25 in his 12 starts. His average starting position of 11.6 is also best of the four, and he’s led laps in five of his 12 appearances (568 in total) to go along with his two pole positions. Overall, Edwards is a 28-time winner in Cup-level competition, tied for seventh place among active drivers and tied for 26th on the all-time win list. The 37-year old Columbia, Missouri native is best known among fans for his backflip antics every time he takes the checkered flag. He’s finished in the runner-up position in Cup Championship standings twice.
Despite an incredible career featuring six Cup Championships between 2006 and 2013, a total of 79 Cup wins (tops among active drivers), 35 poles (also tops among active drivers), and 329 top-ten finishes in his 542 career Cup events, the 41-year old El Cajon, California native has yet to find Victory Lane at Homestead-Miami. His average finish there is 14.07, second among the four challengers, while his total laps led (99) trails Edwards. His average starting position of 15.3 is also higher than that of the other three challengers, even though he’s started from the pole twice in this event (2007 and 2009). But statistics are just numbers, and you can expect the No. 48 to be tough to beat as the team pursues its seventh Sprint Cup title.
The Team Penske driver has shown consistent improvement at Homestead-Miami in his seven previous appearances, from an average finish of 24th in this first four races to 9.33 in his last three. Last year, he finished fourth in this event, leading 72 laps (second only to Brad Keselowski) after being knocked out of the Chase in the final elimination round. At age 26, the Middletown, Connecticut native (known in race circles by the nickname “Sliced Bread”) is the youngest of the contenders and has an average finishing position in this race of 17.71. He did not lead any laps in his first six appearances at Homestead-Miami, with last year as his “breakthrough” (finishing 4th after starting on the outside pole). As the most recent Cup event winner, he and his team will likely have the edge on momentum heading in to Homestead-Miami.
The defending Sprint Cup Champion did not have an easy time in the final elimination round of this year’s Chase, battling with Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth for track position in a seesaw points battle for the fourth and final transfer spot. Although he didn’t lead any laps in the Phoenix eliminator, his second place finish gave him the points he needed to get to the finale and to defend his 2015 Sprint Cup crown. Always a threat to win, with 38 career Cup wins, 19 poles, and a career average finishing position of 14.7 in 425 races, the 31-year old Las Vegas native led the last seven laps of 2015’s final event on the way to a 1.5 second win over Kevin Harvick to clinch the title. Look for Busch to aggressively defend his title to become the first repeat Champion since Johnson’s unbelievable five-title stretch from 2006 through 2010.
The Winning Strategy
Like we said in last year’s Homestead-Miami race preview post, the strategy is simple–if you’re in the final four, stay ahead of the other three no matter what else is happening in the 40-car field. It all comes down to points, and the points are based strictly on finishing order. And remember the age-old racing adage–there are no friendships on the last lap!