As Brian Vickers so eloquently put it on Twitter, “Going to be an awesome weekend in Miami for NASCAR. If you're a fan and not excited you might want to check your pulse!” For a while, it seemed as though Denny Hamlin might run away with the race and that he may secure himself his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship before we head to the season finale. Not so fast! Fuel mileage ultimately locked up the points, shrinking the margin to just 15 points between Hamlin and four-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson. Plus, Kevin Harvick still has something to stay about this title, just 46 points behind Hamlin head into Homestead. Still not excited? Yeah. That’s what I thought.
Here are some questions on my mind after this weekend’s races…
So who IS the favorite? … Do we go with Hamlin, the new kid on the block who seems to be getting the hang of this NASCAR thing? Should we go with the seasoned champion who hasn’t lost a championship since 2005? What about the veteran who dominated the regular season standings? Regardless of who comes away with the trophy this weekend, there’s no doubt that all three are extremely deserving of the title “2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.” But between now and Sunday, hundreds if not thousands of predictions will be made from within NASCAR Nation on which of the trio of competitors will leave Homestead with a big check, a big trophy, and an even bigger smile. Of all the predictions, though, it doesn’t seem like any one person agrees on whom exactly is the clear cut favorite to win it all.
Why was Denny Hamlin so mad after the race? … I know that Hamlin was obviously frustrated about losing a race that was his to win and leaving Phoenix with a slimmer points margin than he had originally hoped for. However, if I hadn’t known any better, Hamlin’s reaction after the race would have had me thinking he lost the points lead as a whole and now had to try and gain it back next week. Instead, he still has a 15 point lead over Johnson and 46 over Harvick. It’s not necessarily the most settling points margin a driver has ever had, but it’s better than not having the lead at all right?
Are Johnson and Knaus showing some cockiness? … I wouldn’t normally describe Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus as the “cocky” type, but after Phoenix they seemed to have quite a bit to say. Here is what Johnson said after the race: “I know what my mindset is and I hope the pressure of us being on his (Denny Hamlin) heels really works on his mind throughout the course of the week – he and his crew. Those guys better be on their toes. Not only do they have the 48 to worry about, but they have the 29 (Kevin Harvick) and one race winner take all – it’s going to be one hell of a show.” Hmm … you would think the pressure would be on Johnson to beat the No. 11 team, rather than hoping that they can “worry” that team out of a championship. I’m sure it’s all an attempt at mind games—similar to what Hamlin and his crew chief Mike Ford were saying in their press conference after Texas—it’s interesting to hear trash talk from the team that is currently behind points.
Did anyone even care that Carl Edwards won? … The fact that this is the fourth question out of five speaks volumes. The focus right now is on the championship, a fight that Edwards has no dog (or duck) in. The last few seasons, Homestead has been a virtual lock, so focusing in on the individual race winners wasn’t much of an effort. Now, top-10 runs by non-Chase drivers are overlooked, storylines are limited to the three drivers in the title hunt, and even winless streaks being broken isn’t enough to turn our attention away from the points standings. If Edward’s traditional victory backflip—and trek into the grandstands—isn’t enough to grab our attention for even a little bit, I think it’s safe to say this might be one of the most memorable NASCAR seasons in recent years.
Is Kevin Harvick “lurking”? … Sorting through all of the pre-weekend madness, it seems most are focusing mainly on Hamlin and Johnson and almost completely discounting Harvick as a threat to the title. Harvick has a “Where did he come from?” racing style, constantly tricking people into thinking he’s a non-factor only to show up in a final sprint to the finish, usually coming out on top. Heading to a racetrack where Harvick has finished in the top five in three of the last four races, “Happy” has them right where he wants them.
Bonus questions: Where did Kasey Kahne think he was going with that fuel can? … How nice was it of Jamie McMurray to offer Jimmie Johnson his water bottle? … How many times will Carl Edwards go up in the grandstands before he is kidnapped?
Photo courtesy of NASCAR Media. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author.