Brace Yourself for (Finally) A Memorable Chase Finish
Fifteen points is all that separates Jimmie Johnson from points leader Denny Hamlin as the NASCAR Sprint Cup season comes down to its culminating race at Miami-Homestead.
Fifteen points is the difference between first and third place on the race track (bonus points notwithstanding). Fifteen points is a bad pit stop from killing your chances of winning a fifth-straight championship or unseating the four-time champ. Fifteen points can be the difference of a missed shift on a restart late in the race.
There are a million different things that could make or break the would-be 2010 champion in the season finale.
Which is exactly why NASCAR went to the Chase format in 2004. It has just never worked out this well for them. While 15 points separate the top-two in the standings, third place Kevin Harvick is within striking distance — only 46 points behind Hamlin. So if Hamlin and Johnson run into trouble, it could be Harvick who upsets them both.
But it will all play out in the season finale. And it may take a checkered flag to claim a championship.
“I can't think of any better storybook ending than having to win the race to win the championship,” said Mike Ford, crew chief for Hamlin. “I think that all three teams are capable of that, and I’d like to think that we can go to Homestead and win that race. That’s what we're focused on.
“Team strategy at this point is — you have to race hard. If you’re in a position to where you can run in front of the 48 and the 29, then you’ll do that. But you won’t take chances if you are in that situation to be able to outrun those guys. You may not take the chances to win the race that you normally would. But I think in looking forward, if you can outrun both of those guys, odds are you’re going to be racing for a win.”
This is a much different situation than NASCAR has had since the advent of the format. Over the last few years, Johnson has had the championship all but wrapped up going into the finale.
The champion has never won the season’s final race in the Chase era.
“It’s different for sure,” said Chad Knaus, crew chief for Johnson. “Like I said, we’re going into an event that we haven’t had to really race at, so that’s a little unique for us since in years we haven’t had to get after it that hard there.
“Look, the facts are this: We have to go to Homestead and we have to put every foot forward to sit on the pole and win the race, and that’s no different than what we do if we go to Atlanta or Pocono or Michigan or wherever it is.
“For us it’s really pretty simple. We just have to go down there and go fast.”
No matter how it plays out, this Chase will prove to be the most memorable, especially if the winner of the race wins the championship. And that’s exactly what NASCAR needs right now.
Contact Andy Cagle at email@example.com.
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