NASCAR Sprint Cup News and Notes -- Homestead-Miami *Chase Race 10: Jimmie Johnson Leads The Way *Roush Fenway Racing The Team To Beat At Homestead-Miami *On The Line: Brian France This Week's Teleconference Guest *Sam Hornish Jr., Regan Smith...
NASCAR Sprint Cup News and Notes -- Homestead-Miami
*Chase Race 10: Jimmie Johnson Leads The Way
*Roush Fenway Racing The Team To Beat At Homestead-Miami
*On The Line: Brian France This Week's Teleconference Guest
*Sam Hornish Jr., Regan Smith In Raybestos Rookie Battle
Johnson Chasing Historic Third Consecutive Title
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 11, 2008) -- After a season's worth of laps, it all comes down to a November afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway and this question: Can reigning and two-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's/Kobalt Chevrolet) make history?
He heads into Sunday's season-finale Ford 400 as the leader in the 2008 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Second-place Carl Edwards (No. 99 Office Depot Ford), the only driver who can catch Johnson, trails by 141 points.
If Johnson does win the 2008 title, he'll join one of the sport's greats -- Cale Yarborough -- as the only drivers to win three consecutive series championships. He also can accomplish the feat on the 30th anniversary of Yarborough's last title (1976-78).
Also notable: If Johnson does take the title, it will be Hendrick Motorsports' eighth driver championship and 11th owner championship across NASCAR's three national series. The latter would tie Richard Childress Racing for the most national series titles.
"I really think where we are in points is going to allow me to go to Homestead and take a little pressure off my brain this week," Johnson said. "We can just go down and relax and get in the car and set it up, just do what we know how to do."
Here's what he must do to clinch his third consecutive series title -- finish 36th or better on Sunday.
Over the past nine Chase races, Johnson has three wins, six top fives, eight top 10s, an average finish of 4.7 and a Chase-high Driver Rating of 118.7.
Edwards has had an excellent Chase as well, winning two races and racking up seven top fives, an average finish of 8.8 and a Driver Rating of 113.2.
He'll need a lot of help to catch Johnson, but there is some precedence at Homestead-Miami. Edwards gained 127 points on Johnson during the 2005 season finale there. He finished fourth while Johnson finished 40th. If Edwards had won that race, he would have gained 147 points -- six more than his current deficit to Johnson heading into Ford Championship Weekend.
"It's possible, not real probable," Edwards said, "but I guarantee that's not going to change the way we do business. We're going to go to Homestead with everything we've got. We'll be aggressive and try to win the race."
On The Line: NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France On NASCAR Teleconference
Brian France was this week's guest on the NASCAR Teleconference, held Tuesday afternoon. Excerpts follow:
On the importance of manufacturers remaining active in the sport: "They have been a very important part of the sport in historical purposes. And we have every intention of them being a big part of the sport in the future. That's why we're going to do everything we can to help them get through a difficult business cycle because of what the ramifications could be -- forgetting NASCAR for a moment, because that would pale in comparison to one of those companies if they have any additional challenges. We want to be successful, and that's what we're going to be working on with all of our manufacturers who help us in the sport. ...
On the possibility of Jimmie Johnson joining Cale Yarborough as the only drivers to win three consecutive titles: "It's certainly not out of the realm of reality that (second-place) Carl (Edwards) could make a run or Jimmie could have some trouble. But assuming that would happen, it would put in our view, Jimmie in an elite group, maybe in an elite group by himself. So we'll see how that shakes out.. ..
On the first full year of competition for NASCAR's new car: "We've watched the competition get better week after week as the teams have figured out this car. Then all of the safety benefits that we've got, those are now well-documented, well recorded that we've approved. It's never good enough, but we've improved on that promise. Finally, is the car side, which, of course, ties directly to the economy and all the things that are going on today.
"We believe very strongly that this car will deliver cost savings in the long run for sure. In some cases, the short run. We're very comfortable with that, and it will allow us in the future to continue to take cost out of the system, which is what everyone in our industry is trying to do. ...
On the Chase format: "We're in our fifth year. As history will unfold, we'll have a period of years where someone will be as dominant as Jimmie and it will go down in the history books. Then there will be other years where that won't happen, and we'll have a number of years of historically tight championship battles. That will be terrific, too. So all we want is the right playoff format, and then if somebody's dominant, they're dominant. If they're not, well, that will be terrific. ...
On the continuing commitment to the sport's growth: "When this economic turn turns around, we're going to be very aggressive continuing to go after a bigger fan base. Get more people interested in NASCAR. That's why we're not going to discontinue a lot of the things that are long-term benefits to the sport. Everyone can win when we get more on solid ground."
Roush Fenway Racing Leads The Way At Homestead-Miami Speedway
Roush Fenway Racing usually excels at 1.5-mile tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule, and Homestead-Miami Speedway is no exception.
In fact, Roush Fenway drivers have won five of the six previous series events there.
And Carl Edwards, the closest challenger to Chase leader and defending two-time champion Jimmie Johnson, is among those Roush Fenway drivers who sport good statistics at the South Florida track.
He and three teammates -- Greg Biffle (No. 16 3M Ford), Matt Kenseth (No. 17 DEWALT Ford) and second-year driver David Ragan (No. 6 AAA Ford) -- all rank within the top 10 of pre-race Driver Rating for Homestead-Miami.
Kenseth, the defending champion of Sunday's Ford 400, is second with a Driver Rating of 115.6 behind leader Martin Truex Jr.'s (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet) 116.1.
He has one win, two top fives and three top 10s in eight career starts there, and heads to South Florida as the eighth-place driver in the Chase.
"I think the racing there is as good as anywhere now," Kenseth said of Homestead-Miami. "I think all the drivers and teams and the fans, everybody loves going down there and it's a great event to have at the end of the year and to crown all the champions, so it's really unique."
Biffle, the third-place driver in the Chase, also ranks third in pre-race Driver Rating (111.0). He leads all drivers with three wins at Homestead-Miami in six career starts there.
He trails Johnson by 203 points and Edwards by 62, but hopes to end the season on a high note. Biffle returned to the Chase this season after a two-year absence. He also won the first two Chase races -- at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway -- to re-establish himself as a title contender.
"We're going to Homestead this weekend to try to end the season with a win," Biffle said. "That's really all we can do. It's unfortunate that we're not a factor in the championship anymore but we can still try to win one more. I've obviously had success at Homestead in the past and when you win there, you're the most recent race winner until you get to Daytona. "
Edwards ranks fourth in pre-race Driver Rating (107.2). He has one pole, two top fives and three top 10s in four career starts there.
Lastly, Ragan -- the 13th-place driver in the series standings -- ranks 10th in pre-race Driver Rating (88.3) there.
"David doesn't have a lot of experience at Homestead, but he's done well this year on similar tracks," said crew chief Jimmy Fennig. "I'm proud of what he's accomplished this season and how far along this team has come."
Down To One: Hornish Leads Smith In Tight Raybestos Rookie Of The Year Battle
Along with a series championship, another important title will be decided following Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Only three points separate the top two contenders for the 2008 Raybestos Rookie of the Year title -- Sam Hornish Jr. (No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge) and Regan Smith (No. 01 DEI/The Principal Financial Group Chevrolet).
Hornish leads Smith by a 199-196 point margin. He has 34 starts this season; Smith has 33.
Entering Homestead-Miami, Smith may have a slight momentum edge: He grabbed the top finish of the two last week at Phoenix, earning Raybestos Rookie of The Race honors with a 23rd-place effort. Hornish finished 33rd.
Smith has finished as the top rookie 10 times this season. Hornish has claimed top rookie honors 11 times in 2008.
Hornish, an Indianapolis 500 champion, is in his first full season of NASCAR competition. He says he's committed to a stock-car career.
I just feel like we've got a lot of things as far as what I can do better, but we've got a lot of things as far as building the 77 car as well," Hornish said.
"In the last bit of the races, we've run top-15 times but end up finishing 22nd, 23rd and 24th," Smith said. "I'm just looking at trying to capitalize on the momentum we have going as far as the setups of the car and get the finishes out of the car that the team deserves."
In The Loop: Gordon, Kenseth And Harvick Hoping To End Winless Streaks At Homestead-Miami
Three marquee drivers remain winless in 2008, and are in jeopardy of ending lengthy season win streaks: Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet), Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet).
Gordon has a win in 14 consecutive seasons; Kenseth has won in six straight and Harvick in three straight.
There's good news for all three. They are all strong at Homestead-Miami Speedway, though only Kenseth has a win there.
Since the inception of Loop Data in 2005, Kenseth -- with his win in last season's finale -- is the strongest of the three.
Over the last three Homestead races, he has a Driver Rating of 115.6 (second-best), an Average Running Position of 8.4 (second), 44 Fastest Laps Run (seventh) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 80.8% (fourth).
Homestead is one of two tracks at which Gordon has yet to win (Texas is the other). Still, his statistics are strong there. He has seven top 10s in nine races, and finished four there last season. Over the past three races at Homestead, Gordon has a Driver Rating of 92.8 (sixth), an Average Running Position of 13.0 (eighth), 43 Fastest Laps Run (tied for eighth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 65.0% (ninth).
Harvick's win drought reached 70 races at Phoenix. His last win was the 2007 Daytona 500.
But the "slump" could end Sunday. He's finished in the top 10 in three of the last four races, so momentum is on his side. At Homestead, he has top-10 finishes in five of his seven starts.
In his last three races there, Harvick has a Driver Rating of 88.4 (ninth), an Average Running Position of 13.3 (ninth) and a Laps in the Top 15 percentage of 63.9% (11th).
One other winless driver to watch is Martin Truex Jr. Truex won his first career race last season, and has been strong in his last two Homestead races.
Truex finished second at Homestead in 2006 and sixth last year. In those two races, he has a series-high in Driver Rating (116.1) and Average Running Position (6.7).
On The Bubble: Marcos Ambrose And No. 47 Toyota In 35th
With one race remaining in the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, plenty of drama remains for those teams involved in the top-35 "bubble" battle.
Each week, the top 35 in the owner standings are guaranteed starting positions, while those outside the cutoff must qualify on speed.
Following Sunday's season-ending Ford 400, the top 35 teams in the 2008 owner standings will be guaranteed starting berths through the first five races of 2009.
As teams prepare for the season's final week, all those on the "bubble" are eying the No. 47 Little Debbie's Ford driven by Marcos Ambrose and owned by Rob Kauffman.
The No. 47 is 35th, gaining one spot in the owner standings after an 18th-place finish last week at Phoenix.
The No. 84 Team Red Bull Toyota, driven this week by Scott Speed and owned by Dietrich Mateschitz, is 36th, slipping one spot after Scott Speed's 40th-place finish at Phoenix.
The No. 84 trails the No. 47 by 17 points.
The No. 7 Jim Beam Dodge owned and driven by Robby Gordon, remains 34th in the owner standings, 30 points ahead of the No. 47.
The No. 66 State Water Heaters Chevrolet, driven by Scott Riggs and owned by Joe Custer, is 33rd, slipping two spots after a 38th-place finish at Phoenix.
The No. 7 trails the No. 66 by 80 points
The No. 77 Mobil 1 Dodge, driven by Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Sam Hornish Jr., and owned by Roger Penske, is 37th, 84 points out of 36th and 101 points out of 35th.
The No. 10 Valvoline Dodge, driven by AJ Allmendinger and owned by George Gillett Jr., is 38th, 59 points out of 37th.
Chevrolet Clinches 32nd Manufacturers Championship; Second Place Still At Stake
Thanks to Jimmie Johnson's victory last Sunday at Phoenix, Chevrolet clinched its 32nd manufacturers' title in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition.
Johnson's victory secured the maximum amount of points required for Chevrolet to win the title -- a competition separated by only a handful of points during the past few weeks.
Heading into Sunday's Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Chevrolet leads the manufacturers standings with 213 points and 11 wins.
But second place is still undecided.
Currently, Ford holds the spot with 206 points and 10 victories. Toyota is third with 204 points and 10 wins. Dodge is fourth with 147 points and four wins.
Chevrolet, the defending manufacturers champion, has won six of the last seven manufacturers' titles, including five straight since 2003.
The manufacturer won its first title in 1958 and nine consecutive titles from 1983-91. With one race remaining in 2008, Chevrolet has won 633 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.
Up Next: 2008 Champions' Week
Following Sunday's season-finale Ford 400, the NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and his team will be celebrated during Champions Week activities in New York City.
This year, it's Dec. 2-6. The series champion has been crowned in New York every year since 1981, with the historic Waldorf=Astoria Hotel serving as the home base.
National media obligations and appearances are an important part of the week's schedule, along with fan interaction and events throughout New York City.
The week culminates Friday, Dec. 5 with the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony in the hotel's Grand Ballroom. The top 10 in the final Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings are recognized during this event, along with the champion.
Also on the 2008 Champions Week schedule:
The annual NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Media Luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 4. The top 12 drivers in the Chase are recognized along with the Raybestos Rookie of the Year, the champion crew chief, sponsor and several important annual industry awards.
Ford 400: Race 10 in the Chase
The Place: Homestead-Miami Speedway
The Date: Sunday, Nov. 16
The Time: 3:45 p.m. (ET)
The Track: 1.5-mile oval
The Distance: 267 laps/400.5 miles
TV: ABC, 3 p.m. (ET)
Radio: MRN (Local Affiliate: KISS Country 99.9), SIRIUS Satellite Radio
2007 Winner: Matt Kenseth
2007 Polesitter: Jimmie Johnson
Friday -- Practice, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Qualifying, 3:10 p.m.
Saturday -- Practice, 1:30-2:15 p.m. and 2:50-3:50 p.m.