November 17, 2008
While everybody was gearing up for the last race of the season and Jimmie Johnson’s inevitable coronation, I was excited about the race for another reason. (Maybe ‘excited’ is too strong of a word) I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Ford Fusion Hybrid pace car make it‘s way around the track as it escorted the Sprint Cup contenders to the green flag. According to hybridcars.com the car makes it’s official debut in Los Angeles later in November but it’s first national public appearance was at Homestead-Miami Speedway. I did get just the briefest glance of the car right before it pealed off onto pit lane when the green flag was waved.
I don’t see that this event means hybrids will, in the near or even distant future, become the stars of the show. But NASCAR has been dedicated to making the series ‘greener’ and the possible use of hybrids in supporting roles in the series, such as pace cars, transportation to and from races, etc. could make a considerable difference in fuel consumption, without ever messing with the star integrity of the cup cars.
Even though, TV coverage barely broadcast it’s participation, it was nice to see it’s appearance anyway. I hope it wasn’t just a one time occurrence.
Photo credit: hybridcars.com
November 15, 2008
Bobby Labonte holds the only win at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a Chevrolet, while Matt Kenseth is the defending race winner.
The only Dodge win in the short history of the south Florida track come from the unlikely source of Bill Elliott. Elliott only won four races for Evernham Racing after resurrecting the brand in NASCAR. Tony Stewart picked off the first two wins ever at HMS in Pontiacs.
The majority of wins have come from the Blue Oval Boys. Fords of Jack Roush have won five of the nine races. Kurt Busch started the winning in 2002. Greg Biffle “owns” Homestead with three consecutive wins in ’04 through ’06; while Matt Kenseth is the defending race winner. While Roush drivers have been celebrating race wins over the last three years at the finale; they have had to watch Jimmy Johnson revel in his championships.
Jack Roush would like nothing better than to be able to celebrate a championship and a race win for Carl Edwards. It’s the long shot of all long shots to believe that JJ can’t pull off a 36th place finish.
photo credit: Icon Sports Media
November 14, 2008
Have a cigar, Jimmie Johnson. Go ahead, seriously. This year’s Chase is as good as over, and it’s your team that’s on top. All it takes is a 36th-place finish, and your fate is sealed as the first three-time champion since Cale Yarborough three decades ago.
In other words, thanks for taking the fun out of the Chase. (Just kidding.)
So we’re headed to Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend for the Sprint Cup season finale, after which NASCAR’s stars take a two-month break from their day jobs. Homestead is typically a Roush Fenway Racing-dominated track, as their cars have won every race here since the Chase’s inception. Greg Biffle won in 2004, 2005, and 2006, and Matt Kenseth won last year.
Here’s how each of the 12 Chase drivers will do this week at Homestead:
1. Jimmie Johnson: He’ll just be trying to survive and wrap up that third title. Anything more than playing it safe will be a bonus.
2. Carl Edwards: If anything happens to Johnson (and even if it doesn’t), you can bet Cousin Carl will be gunning for the win at all times. If Johnson blows up on lap one and he leads the most laps and wins, the title’s his. With no more races left in the season, he might as well go for it.
3. Greg Biffle: Too bad Da Biff’s not still in the title hunt. This is by far his best track, and a three-man shootout between Johnson, Edwards, and Biffle would’ve been fun to watch.
4. Jeff Burton: Burton’s worst finish here with Roush was 14th in five starts. With RCR, his best finish is 8th (last year), with two finishes of 25th or worse in four starts. He won’t be as good in this car as he would be were he still at Roush.
5. Kevin Harvick: Happy hasn’t finished worse than 20th all Chase or at Homestead for his career. He hasn’t won since the 2007 Daytona 500, so don’t expect a win, but Harvick should be up towards the front to finish off the season.
6. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer’s only made two starts here, so it’s hard to tell based on his past experience, especially when his finishes are 10th and 39th. He’s been between 5th and 20th all Chase, though, so expect that to repeat.
7. Jeff Gordon: Gordon hasn’t had a winless season since his rookie year in 1993. While he’s never won at Homestead, he’s only finished worse than 10th twice in nine starts. He’s got nothing to lose by going for the victory. Then again, after qualifying 37th, he’ll have a ways to go.
8. Matt Kenseth: Roush car? Check. Defending race winner? Check. Trying to avoid a big fat zero in the win column for the year? Check. Kenseth’s going to push hard this weekend.
9. Denny Hamlin: Here’s the real battle: the battle for the last seats at the end-of-season banquet. 9th through 12th places are separated by 31 points, and Hamlin leads the pack. If 3rd-place finishes each of the past two years mean anything, he’ll stay in the top 10.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Junior’s best finish at Homestead is 13th in his rookie season, and his average finish is 21.2 in eight starts. He’ll have to improve on that if he wants a seat at the banquet in December.
11. Kyle Busch: If anyone deserves to be on stage in New York this December, it’s a guy who completely ran away with the regular season. Too bad Busch’s track record at Homestead includes a best finish of 20th and an average finish of 33.0.
12. Tony Stewart: Cheers for ten great years with the Gibbs organization, Tony, and here’s to ten more with your own. I don’t expect you to do much this weekend, but enough to claim that final seat in New York for JGR.
So who would I pick to win this weekend? Any of the Roush cars. Biffle’s got the track record, Kenseth’s defending the win from last year, and Edwards is going to do whatever it takes to set himself up for a title if Johnson falters. Bet on Edwards, with the others close behind, a la the Dover race a couple months ago.
Image credit: Icon Sports Media
November 13, 2008
OK, so we’re one episode away from conclusion of the 2008 Jimmie Johnson show. All the Hendrick gear in my possession aside, even I’m bored with this. Nothing against JJ, Chad or crew, but even my 16 year old Baby Ruth T-shirt is fresher than this act. And it doesn’t even fit any more. While their accomplishments the past three seasons are nothing short of miraculous, and like it or not deserve all the press and praise, there’s one thing that comes to mind that a wise old man once told me.
“Luke, you just can’t eat a steak every night for life and not expect it to get old and lose it’s luster. Sometimes you just need a good chicken dinner to liven it up.”
While a bit off-beat, it rings true for many situations. Including this one. As remarkable of an accomplishment as this will be, barring something to knock Jimmie to a 37th or worse finish, fans are looking to the menu for some chicken.
They have shown it with empty seats at places which tend to sell out, or close to it. They have shown it through television ratings, as well as related purchases. While the current economic times play a part, those didn’t really enter the picture until mid to late summer where it would have a huge impact.
Many curse the Chase, although Johnson would still be leading by 56 points. That aside, he would only be heading to Championship #1, not #3.
I read an interesting article yesterday, with some interesting concepts on how bad it is and how it could be fixed. Problem being: “One must recognize, and accept, that there is a problem before work can begin to fix it.” — Luke
A few decent ideas have been thrown around, for sure.
So while we witnessed the last to final episode of the 2008 season of the Jimmie and Chad show, it wasn’t all about the Chasers.
Jamie McMurray continued his romp and stomp with another Top-5 and 3rd place finish. Kurt Busch, hanging it all out, finished second, with David Ragan closing out the Top-10. 30% of your Top-10 were not in the Chase. Surprise, surprise.
With fond memories (thank you Truck Series) from Phoenix in our rear view mirrors, we’re pulling into Homestead with one thing on everyone’s mind. Vacation. Yes, you read that right. Time off. No tracks, no press, no worries. At least for a few days anyway, as work for 2009 has already begun. Think I’m kidding? Kurt Busch and company tested this past Tuesday at the new half-mile “Little Rock”, at Rockingham, getting ready for 2009. No joke.
Homestead is, well, it’s a track. Much like many others composing the meat of the current schedule. It’s a 1.5 mile “cookie-cutter”, and it’s owned by ISC. There you have it. In an effort to improve racing they put in graduated banking, seeing action for the first time in 2003. Las Vegas did the same thing just 2 years ago, in fact. While the show improved, it’s about like watching Johnson hoist the Cup this Sunday.
The cookie track that tried, tried, and tried again has been the “House of Roush” for years. In fact, Greg Biffle is 3 for 4 in the past 4 years here, only losing out to Matt Kenseth in the 2007 showdown when he beat Kurt Busch to the line by .852 seconds. Biffle wound up 13th.
If one had to put some non-Chasers in the Top-10, you can’t help but pick Jamie McMurray and David Ragan. With momentum and history coming into play, they’re odds on favorites to crack the Top-10.
Kurt Busch again? I’m not so sure. Top-20, maybe, but he’s pulling an average just inside the Top-30 for tracks of this nature this year. Needless to say, when they’re on, they’re on. When they’re off, they’re really off. There hasn’t really been an in between at this type of track for the #2 Dodge.
Looking for that ever elusive third possibility, I’ll throw you two and you can take your pick. It’s not out of the question that it could be Kasey Kahne or Travis Kvapil. Yes, I said Travis Kvapil.
Come back next week for the final wrap up on what was the non-Chase 2008.
November 13, 2008
Use your heads NASCAR fans. With only three races in the NASCAR Loop stat database for Homestead-Miami Speedway, you will need to look at more trends than the Loop Data give you. In fact, make it easy on your self and just pick a Roush-Fenway Racing driver.
I’ll admit that after last week when Jimmy Johnson again put a stompin’ on the field at Phoenix International Raceway, I am shell shocked. Johnson and Chad Knaus have shown no signs of stroking it and running for points at all. Will this week, with only a 36th place finish needed to clinch a third straight Sprint Cup Series championship change anything? Jimmy’s average finish in the last three Homestead-Miami finales is only 18.7. He was, in two of those races, leading the championship going into the event. That may show a trend toward being conservative. Actually, it may not matter.
The Roush-Fenway drivers have been very good at Homestead. Greg Biffle once won here in three consecutive years. Greg is tops in Fastest Laps Run (80) and Laps in the Top 15 – 688 – in the last three races too.
Matt Kenseth has an average finish of 3.3 and has led the most laps – 214 for 26.7 percent - in the three Loop Data races. And Kenseth is one of only three of the 2008 Chase qualifiers to have won at Homestead. Biffle and two-time winner Tony Stewart are the others.
But Carl Edwards is my pick this time. Carl has shown that he and crew chief Bob Osborne have no quit in them. They are the only team with any mathematical chance to upset the Lowes No. 48 apple cart. They have to win the race. They can win the race. Carl has an average finish of 5.7 – only third best among the Roush drivers – and the fourth best Driver Rating at 107.2.
So Carl is my pick. And Jeff Gordon is my “I can’t believe I’m calling him an upset”, upset special. Gordon has never won at Homestead-Miami – there are only two of those tracks left on his to-do list. It’s just a hunch that Gordon may get the job done here, this time around.
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media, Inc.
November 11, 2008
I think the NASCAR scoring loops must be broken at Homestead-Miami Speedway. How else can you explain the fact that Jimmy Johnson has only the 12th best Loop Driver Rating for the progressively banked mile-and-a-half track? Maybe it’s a typo.
Or maybe Johnson can’t win them all. He hasn’t won at Homestead. Maybe it’s because he usually has a championship to clinch and has better, bigger things to worry about. I think that could play into the results this week.
Running for points didn’t seem a consideration for Johnson at Phoenix last Sunday. He just drove away from everyone else pretty much all day. It was a performance that defined the term “having the field covered”.
But not this week. On paper the final race of the Chase to the 2008 Sprint Cup looks to be a Roush benefit. I agree with Matt on that.
I would look to Tony Stewart to play spoiler for the Cat-in-the-hat’s party, but I think that Smoke is counting down to the end of this season. Time to go Chevy racing again – with his own team. In fact, none of the Joe Gibbs racers look like winners this week. Neither does Dale Earnhardt Jr, Clint Bowyer or Jeff Burton.
No Jimmy Johnson win this week. I hope.
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media, Inc.
November 10, 2008
While only winning the championship in 2004, the Roush Fenway Fords are dominant at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Greg Biffle won this race three years running and Matt Kenseth capped off the season one year ago with a win. To add to the fun for the Cat in the Hat, Carl Edwards has a very good record here and David Ragan has a top 10 in his first start here last year. For Roush, those are good odds.
The championship is obviously the big story at Homestead, but every year the margin of victory is getting larger. From the incredible drama of Kurt Busch’s 2004 season to Tony Stewart’s and Jimmie Johnson’s solid if unspectacular runs in the years following, the championship chase is still must-watch television and the redesigned Homestead track deserves a lot of the credit. This year almost certainly promises to see Johnson do what only Cale Yarborough has done in NASCAR’s top series unless something freakish happens to the normally unflappable #48 team.
Paging David Gilliland, remember where your engines come from… anyway, lets get a look at the numbers.
2007 – Matt Kenseth
2006 – Greg Biffle
2005 – Greg Biffle
2004 – Greg Biffle
2007 – Jimmie Johnson – 7th
2006 – Jimmie Johnson – 9th
2005 – Tony Stewart – 15th
2004 – Kurt Busch – 5th
Let’s see, let me find a Roush Fenway driver that has had the best season this and won on similar 1.5 mile tracks… oh yeah, if you’re not anticipating Carl Edwards leading nearly every lap and winning this thing Sunday night, I’ll take whatever odds there are for the race. Aside from Edwards, Biffle does have a track record of winning here and could easily do it again.
The two sleepers I’ve pegged for this race are Ragan and Jamie McMurray. Both drivers have performed admirably in the final stretch of the year. The season finale always produces surprises, it should be interesting to see what happens this year. Among the one-off entrants are Brad Keselowski and Mark Martin, and the end of A.J. Allmendinger’s run in the #10.
Finally, it’s been a pleasure to write this weekly column for On Pit Row. I want to thank Steve and Charlie for all of their hard work and I look forward to continuing my contributions to the Bench Racing blog. Journey provides the season finale with the classic karaoke song Don’t Stop Believin’. YouTube is your friend. This won’t be like the Sopranos finale when the music just stops before the
Photo credit: Icon Sports Media
November 9, 2008
From Daytona to Miami–NASCAR begins and ends its season in the Sunshine State.
After Hurricane Andrew left its trail of destruction in 1992, longtime Miami motor sports promoter Ralph Sanchez negotiates a deal with the city of Homestead to build a facility that will revitalize the city. Groundbreaking took place for the new 434-acre facility known as Homestead-Miami Speedway one year later. Businessman and sports team owner H. Wayne Huizenga becomes a partner in the project prior to completion.
Grand opening ceremonies for the Speedway are held in November of 1995 and NASCAR debuts in front of a sold-out crowd. Executives and dignitaries are given the honor of cutting the ribbon, and Dale Jarrett wins the Nov. 5 Jiffy Lube Miami 300 Nationwide race.
In November of 1999, the Speedway hosts NASCAR’s premier division, the Winston Cup Series, and Tony Stewart wins the Pennzoil 400. Prior to the event, Homestead-Miami Speedway nearly doubled its seating capacity and added a massive expansion in Turn 1 under the direction of new track President Curtis Gray.
In 2002, Homestead-Miami Speedway reached another milestone when it was awarded Ford Championship Weekend. For the first time, each of NASCAR’s premier series—the Winston, Busch, and Craftsman Truck Series—concluded its season and crowned its champions on the same weekend at the same track.
The following Spring, the speedway underwent the most technologically advanced track-reconfiguration project in the history of motor sports: a $12 million re-banking project that transformed the track from a flat 6-degrees to a computer-designed 18-to-20-degree variable banking system in the turns. That Fall the Ford Championship Weekend took place on the new banking, drawing rave reviews from fans.
2004 saw the first Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup finale takes place at the Speedway, as Kurt Busch secures his first NEXTEL Cup Series championship. One year later, Championship Weekend takes place under the lights for the very first time. Tony Stewart wins the Cup Series Championship and Greg Biffle wins his second consecutive Ford 400.
Jimmie Johnson wins the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Championship in 2006, and Greg Biffle wins his third consecutive Ford 400. One year later, Johnson wins his second consecutive NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Championship, and Matt Kenseth takes the checkered flag in the Ford 400.
Johnson only has to finish 38th or better to secure his third consecutive Sprint Cup Championship. Carl Edwards is the only other Chaser to have a shot at Johnson. As Carl said after the race at Phoenix; he still has a chance for the championship, but it isn’t very likely. Keep in mind though–Roush-Fenway Racing Fords have won over half of the races at Miami.
photo credit: icon Sports Media
November 8, 2008
Seven of the last eight races at Pheonix International Raceway have seen Chevrolet drivers head to victory lane.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. started the turn of events in 2003 when he won the first of back to back wins. Only in 2005 was the recent Chevy dominance interrupted by Kurt Busch in a Roush Ford. It has been all Chevy power ever since. Kyle Bush, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon have preceded defending race champ Jimmy Johnson as the most recent GM winners.
Phoenix hasn’t always been so Chevrolet biased. The early Cup years saw Ford win eleven of the first fifteen races held on the unique mile oval. Alan Kulwicki, Bill Elliott and Davey Allison all won races in the first few years of the journey out to the Valley of the Sun.
Carl Edwards is hot and a man on a mission while Jimmy Johnson is looking to hang on to win a record tying third straight championship.
This could be the year that Ford begins to re-assert itself as a dominate player at Phoeniz.
photo credit: Icon Sports Media
November 7, 2008
Sorry, guys. For some reason, I thought I posted my column last week, but when I looked for it here on the site, it was mysteriously not there. I picked the winner correctly, I called everybody but Jimmie Johnson irrelevant (oh, how wrong I was), and I even made reference to Tommy Tutone when I wrote about Denny Hamlin. So, of course, my best work goes for naught when I don’t actually end up putting it up for the world to see. (Then again, now I can recycle my “Denny, Denny, who can I turn to” next year.)
In other words, it looks like I had a massive brain fart. Or, as Jack Roush would suggest, I’ve had my “mulligan” for the Chase. Just read the best nine columns out of ten, right?
Here’s what to expect from each of the 12 Chase drivers this week at Phoenix:
1. Jimmie Johnson: Best average finish of every driver at Phoenix, incredible Chase, last guy to win here, blah, blah, blah. Johnson’s run last week, while not catastrophic, left the door open for Edwards. Then again, don’t be surprised if Jimmie comes through in the clutch. That’s what Team 48 does.
2. Carl Edwards: Carl’s average finish of 14.5 is negatively affected by the 42nd place he had at this race last year, when his engine let go in the first half of the race. That can’t happen again. Carl’s got a lot of momentum from the past two weeks, and he has a chance at winning four in a row and mimicking Johnson’s huge run at the end of last year. Given his record at Phoenix when things go right (5 top-10s), it’s definitely possible.
3. Greg Biffle: Da Biff is painfully average overall at Phoenix, with an average finish of 16.4, but the finishes themselves are often polarized. Biffle has two 2nd place finishes at the track, as well as two finished of 34th place or lower. The question is simply whether the team will have one of the former or the latter come race day. With the way the team’s been since the debacle at Talladega, look for the former.
4. Jeff Burton: Betcha didn’t know that JB’s got two wins here. It’s true – he won this race in 2000 and 2001. Betcha also had no idea that Burton’s worst finish at Phoenix in the past decade is 15th in fall 2005. His 11.1 average finish here is in the top five of all active drivers. There’s no reason he can’t pull off another decent finish.
5. Jeff Gordon: Gordon’s only win at Phoenix was here in 2007, but he still has an average finish of 8.5. Here’s to hoping he wins this weekend, if only because winning at least once every year since 1994 is a huge accomplishment. His average finish of 8.5 is second only to Johnson.
6. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer made his Cup debut at Phoenix, finishing 22nd in the spring of 2005. Since then, he’s only failed to complete eight laps at the track, and has two top-5s, including a 2nd place this spring. The team is a far cry from where they were at this time last year, but a 4th at Texas last week proves that they’re still capable of top finishes.
7. Kevin Harvick: Happy hasn’t won at Phoenix since sweeping in 2006, but he’s also been a solid contender for the past few years. Since the spring of 2006, his average finish is an astounding 7.6 with four top-10s. Then again, Harvick’s only spent 23 laps at the front of the field all Chase, so don’t count on a momentum-based win.
8. Matt Kenseth: Kenseth’s average finish of 18.8 is due to an extreme polarization of finishes. When he’s good (a win in 2002, six top-10s), he’s good. When he’s bad (five finishes of 32nd or worse), he’s bad. Case in point: Kenseth led 93 laps to finish 3rd in this race last year, but finished 38th here this year in the spring. He’s a high-risk, high-reward pick, but given his last three finishes (average: 7.0), the reward may be there for the taking.
9. Tony Stewart: Stewart has been running at the finish all 13 times he’s started a Phoenix race. His average finish of 9.8 is tops among Toyota drivers, and he’s only finished worse than 18th once. Smoke wants to go out at Joe Gibbs Racing with a bang, and building on that impressive Phoenix resume would sure help. An interesting note: Stewart’s eight top-10s are as many as his teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, have combined for in the same amount of starts between them.
10. Kyle Busch: Cheers to Shrub regaining the final position at NASCAR’s end-of-season awards banquet – for now. Securing that seat, however, will require him to build on his somewhat stellar record at Phoenix. Busch has five top-10s in seven starts here, with the only exceptions coming in 2006. He’s led laps at the track before, and he’s been stellar in most of the past few races. There’s a chance that he might snag one more Cup win before the year is out.
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: One point behind Busch for the final banquet spot, Junebug goes to a track where he has two wins, four top-5s, and six top-10s. He led 87 laps at Phoenix in the spring on the way to a 7th place finish. It’ll take another performance like that to bring him back into the top 10.
12. Denny Hamlin: I predict Hamlin will finish 3rd this weekend. Hey, when it’s happened three times in six starts at the track, it seems like a safe enough bet. For the record, his other finishes are 13th, 34th, and a 16th at this time last year.
So who would I pick to win this weekend? I’m going to go out on a limb and say Jeff Gordon’s due. Hendrick ought to do his best to give Gordon the best car on the track this weekend and keep that 14-year winning streak alive, even if it means making Johnson a bit more vulnerable for Homestead. Let’s make the title fight a real fight, boys.