Homestead: GM Racing preview

Team Chevy Heads for the Finish Line at Homestead-Miami Speedway; With 2006 Manufacturers' Cup Locked Up and New Single-Season Win Record Set, Focus on Driver and Owner Championship Jimmie Johnson Holds 63 Point Lead; After Winning Eight of Nine...

Team Chevy Heads for the Finish Line at Homestead-Miami Speedway; With 2006 Manufacturers' Cup Locked Up and New Single-Season Win Record Set, Focus on Driver and Owner Championship

Jimmie Johnson Holds 63 Point Lead; After Winning Eight of Nine Chase Races To Date, Four Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Drivers Sit in Top-Five in Standings Mathematically Eligible For Championship Going in to Season Finale

Homestead, FL - Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe's Monte Carlo SS Hendrick Motorsports Team have done everything they need to do this season to get to this point - one race away from winning the Chase for the Nextel Cup (Chase).

If Johnson finishes 12th or better in Sunday's NASCAR Nextel Cup Series (NNCS) final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he will be the 2006 NNCS driver champion and team owner Rick Hendrick will win his sixth owner's title. Chad Knaus is poised to capture his first award as the championship winning crew chief.

If he leads one lap and finishes 13th or leads the most laps and finishes 15th, Johnson will stand holding the Nextel Cup, regardless of how the four other eligible drivers perform.

Johnson and the team have finished first or second in the last five races, vaulting them from eighth in the standings to the lead they currently hold. Setting the stage for this final battle, they have scored five victories, 13 top-five finishes, 23 top-10 finishes and one pole in the 35 completed races.

"I seriously don't have any clue what to expect (heading to Homestead)," said Johnson. "I don't have any strategy other than go down and finish ahead of the 17, 8 and 11. It's just simple. That's all we've done so far through these last few months. So, we will just go down there and do the same thing we've been doing.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself, a lot of confidence in the race team, our equipment, and as my mind plays its games on me, I just fall back on the team; Chad Knaus and Rick Hendrick, all aspects of our race team and how strong they are and how they support me. It helps keep my mind from doing different things to me. To be honest we have to just keep doing the same thing we've been doing just one more time, and if we are fortunate enough to do that, we'll be very happy."

In five previous Homestead starts, Johnson has two top-five (second place both times) and three top-10 finishes which bodes well for him to continue the streak he is on with consistently finishing in the top-five.

Kevin Harvick, No. 29 GM Goodwrench Monte Carlo SS, did all he could do last weekend at Phoenix (PIR) to put himself and his Richard Childress Racing team in position to contend for the championship at Homestead. He also has five previous starts at the track south of Miami capturing one top-five (second place) and four top-10 finishes.

With his win Sunday in the Checker Auto Parts 500, Harvick swept both NNCS races at PIR. His fifth trip to victory lane this season was an unprecedented 23rd single-season wins record for the Bowtie Brand.

Harvick has also scored five wins this season and has 14 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes with one pole.

He goes to Homestead third in the Chase standings, 90 points down to Johnson.

"We're excited just to be a part of it to tell you the truth," said Harvick. "We've had a great year and it's been up and down, but for the most part, been really great through the majority of it. So we're just having fun and racing as hard as we can and doing the things that we've done week in and week out all year. You know, there's really not a lot of pressure to tell you the truth. It's just go out and go as fast as you can and everybody knows that everybody's going to do every thing they can do.

"So you know, how it falls is how it falls and that's just kind of how we've looked at it since the season started."

Sitting in fourth position in the Chase standings, also 90 points down to the leader, Raybestos Rookie contender Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Monte Carlo SS. Hamlin and his Mike Ford led Joe Gibbs Racing team have put up impressive numbers as well this season.

With two wins, seven top-five and 19 top-10 finishes with three poles; the youngster has proven that he will be a contender in NNCS competition for years to come.

But Hamlin is realistic when it comes to winning the championship in his first year: "If we come out of Homestead and we end up winning the championship, it's going to be by extreme luck, that's the bottom line, because we are not performing at the level that they (Johnson and No. 48 team) are.

"You know, we are just putting ourselves in position, that's all we can do is put ourselves in position; if something happens, then we hope to capitalize. If not, we are going to go there regardless and celebrate a great season."

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., No. 8 Budweiser Monte Carlo SS, sits fifth in the Chase standings, 115 points behind Johnson and is mathematically still alive for the title. But Homestead hasn't been a track where Junior and his Dale Earnhardt, Inc. team have found the magic. In his six previous starts, his best finish is 13th place.

After rallying to finish ninth, Junior and his team head to Homestead firm in their commitment to finish the season strong.

"We just have to keep doing what we have been doing," said Junior. "I am real proud of my team, they amaze me how good they are. We have great chassis, great engines, great everything. It has been a good year, normally by now I am ready to have it all over with, but I am having a ball."

Although Jeff Gordon, No. 24 DuPont Monte Carlo SS, is mathematically out of the running for the championship when Johnson takes the green flag on Sunday, he and his Hendrick Motorsports team are determined to finish the season strong with his career-first win on the 1.5-mile track.

"I love that track," Gordon said about this weekend's event. "We went down there and tested. It's going to be a really awesome race because the groove has moved all the way to the wall - and that was in testing. My only concern about Homestead is when they're starting the race we're going to have another Atlanta situation, which we had at Homestead last year, but the track's fantastic. We were decent. We need to be better, but we're decent."

In seven previous Homestead starts, the four-time NNCS champion has three top-five and six top-10 finishes.

Jeff Burton, No. 31 Cingular Wireless Monte Carlo SS, is out of contention for the title but knows every point counts in the Homestead NNCS season finale. More points means positions in the standing, which equals a larger portion of year-end fund to share with his Richard Childress Racing teammates.

"I thought that we have done a really nice job in the championship," said Burton. "I thought we prepared very well, and still are prepared. I think we came in with the right attitude; we had some things that we needed to do a better job of controlling, and there were some things that we couldn't control that got us behind. I look at this year as kind of a character-building year. It has been a year that we have put ourselves in a position; it has been a year that we have proven to ourselves we can do, which is really what counts. We can do this, and we do deserve to be here, and we have to go take advantage of it."

Kyle Busch, No. 5 Kellogg's Monte Carlo SS, will make only his second NNCS start at Homestead this weekend. After getting caught up in a multi-car accident that ended his day early at PIR, Busch is ready to end the season on an upbeat note.

"The things I've learned this year have just to kind of settle down," said Busch on his season, which included one win, 10-top-fives, 18 top-10 finishes and one pole. "To get into a rhythm and run the race and just been there at the end. Leading every lap in the beginning and middle part of the race doesn't pay anything. It's about being around at the end. That's more of what we've been able to learn throughout the year. We haven't been able to apply it throughout the Chase, but hopefully we can try to build on that the rest of the year."

-credit: gm racing

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson , Denny Hamlin , Chad Knaus , Kyle Busch
Teams Hendrick Motorsports , Joe Gibbs Racing