As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season winds down with Sunday's season finale Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, most of the attention, and rightfully so, is focused squarely on two title contenders -- series points leader Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson in the NO. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Keselowski heads into the last race of the year with a 20 point cushion on Johnson, so a finish of 15th or better would garner the Sprint Cup for Keselowski, regardless of Johnson's result. If Keselowski leads a lap, he only needs to finish 16th or better. But Keselowski realizes that a top-15 is easier said than done and is by no means guaranteed.
We need to finish this season out with a win for our Fastenal team.
“Certainly if you have the choice you always want to be in the lead of the points, especially in the closing races, so I'm thankful for that,” Keselowski said. “But I also know that the troubles that they had are the same troubles that we could have next week, and so you try not to take anything for granted.”
Homestead-Miami isn't one of Keselowski's better tracks. In four previous Sprint Cup starts at the track, he has only managed to finish inside the top-20 one time, a 13th-place showing in 2010. But then again, it's not Johnson's best track either. Homestead-Miami Speedway is one of the few tracks on the circuit on which Johnson has never won.
Still, Johnson hasn't counted out the possibility of a Homestead win.
“My focus is going down there and winning the race," Johnson said. "We typically haven’t had to have that mentality going into this race, but we have shown we can race for the win."
What does this all mean? It means that Sunday would be the perfect opportunity for Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford to play spoiler to the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series competitors. After nine races is this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, none of the nine have been won by non-Chasers.
"Homestead is a great track for Carl," No. 99 crew chief Chad Norris said. "He has only finished outside the top 10 once there so we certainly want to keep that streak going this weekend. We have one last chance to put the Fastenal Ford in victory lane this year and we’re doing everything we can to make that happen. Everyone on this team is working hard and we never give up so a win is certainly not out of the question at Homestead."
Granted, Edwards has had a lackluster 2012, and that's putting it mildly. After coming off a 2011 season that saw him end the year tied for the points lead with eventual champion Tony Stewart, Edwards has struggled mightily.
Edwards is still looking for his first win of the year, and a win at Homestead-Miami would at least end 2012 on a positive note and give him a little momentum for 2013. Edwards has two wins at the Florida track, both coming in the last four years. He also has seven-straight finishes there of eighth or better. Then consider that Edwards' average HMS finish is a brag-worthy 5.2, and Homestead-Miami Speedway could be said to be one of his best tracks.
“Statistically speaking Homestead is our best track, and I really like racing there a lot," Edwards said. "It seems like every time we go there we have a car that could win. We need to finish this season out with a win for our Fastenal team, and go into 2013 the way we went into 2011 and go for that championship. We’ve got a lot of things happening right now and we’re building the best team we can for next year. We’re very excited about everything happening at Roush Fenway. There would be no better way to kick off the 2013 season than with a win at Homestead now.
Edwards only has one shot left to put a positive spin on the year that's been 2012. And that one shot looks to be one of his best shots, to date, this year to get the job done.