Thursday, November 25, 2010

Chase Coverage: Homestead Wrap-Up Report

After 10 races, the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup came to a thrilling conclusion at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

What started as a three-man battle for the title between Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick gave way to one of the most exciting season finales in memory, if not the most exciting race of the year. All three contenders had problems during the race, keeping fans on the edge of their seats wondering who would come out on top.

In the end, one man was left standing: Jimmie Johnson came from behind in the points to hoist his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship, a first in the history of NASCAR.

Skirts and Scuffs congratulates Johnson on his historic achievement.

There's also the matter of who won the last race of 2010. That would be Carl Edwards, who dominated at Homestead to finish out the season with back-to-back wins. Will Edwards be a possible contender for the 2011 championship? Read on to find out his thoughts.

Here's what our contributors had to say about how the Chase drivers did during the final race of the 2010 season.

1. Jimmie Johnson - Champion - 6622 points - Rebecca Kivak
Jimmie Johnson went into Homestead second in the points standings and emerged as the first consecutive five-time champion in the history of NASCAR. Faced with racing for the title in the season finale, a situation he hadn't found himself in in five years, the driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet delivered on the track to the very last lap, finishing second in Sunday's Ford 400. But the road to a fifth title wasn't easy. Johnson overcame three slow pit stops by his crew and made the fewest mistakes of the top 3 title contenders in a race that kept fans guessing until the very end.

Johnson's 6th-place starting position in the Ford 400 gave him an edge over points leader Denny Hamlin, who started 37th, and third-place Kevin Harvick, who started 28th. Within the opening laps Johnson had moved up to third. He continued to run in the top 5 for the first 70 laps and was the only title contender to lead a lap, which he did on lap 72.

During the race Johnson worked to stay ahead of Hamlin, who had his own problems after spinning out early in the race and later a confusing pit call, and Harvick, who had the speed until a late-race speeding penalty set him back.

The biggest obstacle to Johnson's historic fifth title ended up being his pit crew. The former over-the-wall crew for the No. 24 team, who had performed flawlessly at Texas and Phoenix, stumbled at Homestead. When Johnson pitted on lap 73, the crew had trouble with the right rear tire. The 15.6-second stop caused Johnson to restart 9th. Johnson had worked his way to 7th when he came into the pits on lap 99 for tires and fuel. The 13.7-second pit stop lost him three spots and he restarted 10th. When Johnson came in for fuel only on lap 135, the crew's fast work allowed him to gain four spots and he restarted fourth. But a stop on lap 165 brought more trouble for Johnson when the crew had a problem with the lug nuts on the right front. The 15.4-second stop saw Johnson lose five spots, relegating him back to 12th.

After the third problematic pit stop, Johnson asked his crew kindly and calmly on the scanner to be there for him. And for the remainder of the race they were. Within 15 laps he had climbed back into the top 10. After another caution on lap 187, the pit crew's 12.7-second stop enabled Johnson to gain one spot, restarting 8th.

The adjustments made by crew chief Chad Knaus helped Johnson gain speed throughout the race. By lap 220 he was up to 2nd, behind race leader Carl Edwards. From then on out Johnson never looked back. When he crossed the finish line and Knaus told him he was the 2010 champion, Johnson pumped his fist and exclaimed, "It's unbelievable, it's unbelievable!" It was a nice display of emotion for the usually cool and collected Johnson.

Johnson became the first driver in Chase history and the first since 1992 to come from behind to win the championship. And it was this championship - the one that almost wasn't - that has been the sweetest for Johnson.

“I’ve always (said) that the first championship, first win, that stuff meant the most to me,” Johnson said. "This one, I think this takes the lead. Just the circumstances, it’s not that the other Chases weren’t competitive. We were stronger I think in the previous two Chases at least. Maybe all four. We have had the highs and lows of the Chase, but to have it all come around, and to look every single one of my crew guys in the eyes on that stage tonight, there’s a different feeling about it.” 

With his five titles, Johnson now follows Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, with seven each, into the history books.

On a personal note, I just wanted to say I've enjoyed covering Jimmie Johnson for the Skirts and Scuffs Chase coverage! It's incredible to see one of my favorite drivers reach this amazing achievement. Thanks for joining me in watching it unfold.

2. Denny Hamlin - (-39) - Holly Machuga
The 2010 season came to a disappointing end for Denny Hamlin on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He finished 14th with 39 points behind Jimmie Johnson.

This season has been the best by far of Hamlin’s career with eight wins, 14 top 5s, 18 top 10s and two poles.

When asked about the race itself, Denny answered, “Well, I mean, it was a fight. You know, you can kind of maybe contribute it to bad qualifying, but our car was really fast at the beginning. I mean, just unbelievably fast at the beginning, and I knew we had a car that could contend for a win, and obviously when we got in that incident on the back straightaway, it tore up the front and knocked the toe out and obviously the car did not drive as well for the rest of the day.”
      
Afterward, he addressed the incident with Greg Biffle just a few laps into the race, “We just tried to patch it and work on it the best we could but just wasn't the car that it was at the beginning.”
          
And, next year? “We'll just keep fighting and get 'em next year.”

3. Kevin Harvick - (-41) - Amber Arnold
As the laps wound down and the checkered flag flew, a season in which Harvick called “a 180,” ended up falling a little short in the title hopes. Forty-one points short to be exact.

Homestead was an eventful race for the 29 team. An on-track dust-up with Kyle Busch ended with Busch going down in flames at the hands of Harvick’s front bumper. Harvick later told the media Busch raced him “like a clown” all day and even joked after the race with Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin that Harvick “parked” Hamlin’s teammate.

While Harvick didn’t receive any detrimental damage after the on-track altercation, he may have sunk himself after one on pit road. Harvick was caught speeding in a controversial call made by NASCAR. Gil Martin, crew chief for the 29, disputed the call and in the end NASCAR won and Harvick paid the price. Some say this was the demise of the championship for Harvick and his team. Harvick later said the speeding call will “(n)ever settle in my stomach.”

At the end of the 2010 season, the 29 team should look back on it with nothing but positive thoughts. While they didn’t take home the trophy, they did take away proof they could contend while overcoming adversity.

4. Carl Edwards - (-229) - Amanda Ebersole
The season is d-o-n-e - done - and Jimmie Johnson is still king of the mountain. All the drama during the race was over who would win the Sprint Cup, but did anyone notice who won the race? That’s right … for the second week in a row it was Carl Edwards! And if I do say so myself, Carl spanked the field in Homestead by leading 190 of the 267 laps for the Ford 400 championship finale. It was very fitting to have a Ford in victory lane.

Carl started in second, next to pole sitter Kasey Kahne, and quickly showed his dominance. Five laps into the race, Carl took the lead and from that point on there was only one car that seemed to match up to Carl, the 56 of Martin Truex Jr. Truex was the only other driver to lead a large quantity of laps. Carl and crew chief Bob Osborne made great calls in the race to improve the handling of the Aflac Ford Fusion. The 99 team also was stellar in the pit stops, and if you have ever followed Carl and his team, that was an issue at one point. The pit crew was also awarded the Tissot Pit Crew Award for being the fastest in Homestead. Carl won the race with a 1.608-second margin over Jimmie Johnson and the third-place car of Kevin Harvick.

"This is unreal,” Edwards said in victory lane. “This is a great way to finish the season. I’m just so proud for Ford, Aflac, Scotts, Subway, Vitamin Water, Kellogg’s, Valvoline – everybody that’s been behind us all year. To win back-to-back is a product of these guys not giving up. We don’t give up. My guys are unreal and we just had an unbelievable run toward the end of this season. I’m truly blessed and I’m so excited."

And please don’t name Carl as a threat to Jimmie in 2011. In his post-race press conference, he was asked about being the favorite in 2008 and his reply was comical: “Please don't do that again. That didn't work worth a damn.”

Looking toward 2011, I expect great things from the 99 team. I am so sad to see 2010 end, but for Carl it ended on a high note.

Thank you for reading my coverage of Carl Edwards throughout the Chase … it has been a blast to cover him!

5. Matt Kenseth - (-328) - Whitney Richards
Last Sunday’s race was a milestone in Matt Kenseth’s NASCAR career. It was his 400th Sprint Cup Series start, and the team wanted to bring home the win. After an up-and-down year, Kenseth was hungry for a win to end the season, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. For the second time in three years, Kenseth went winless, finishing 9th in the season finale.

Kenseth took the green flag from the 13th position, and within the opening run, had cracked the top 10. Under the first caution of the day on lap 17, Kenseth informed crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford was tight in the center of the turns, loose off. He pitted for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. Kenseth’s crew gained him three positions on pit road, which had him restarting sixth.

The following run had Kenseth battling a car that had become looser than it had been in the beginning of the race. The crew continued to make adjustments when they could, but the loose-handling condition remained.  A caution for debris around lap 188 gave the team a chance to make more adjustments. The No. 17 crew gained three positions on pit road again, and Kenseth restarted 4th. Following the restart, Kenseth informed Fennig that the car had tightened up and that he could finally challenge for position. A few laps later, he was up to second. Kenseth challenged teammate Carl Edwards for the lead, and was able to lead lap 207, but soon afterward, he began to drop back. The No. 17 Ford was beginning to get loose again. Kenseth dropped to third and told his crew that the car was lacking rear grip.

On lap 240, Fennig called Kenseth to pit road for a green-flag stop for four tires, fuel, and track bar and air pressure adjustments. A caution came out just a few laps after Kenseth pitted, and the team opted to stay out. Kenseth restarted third, but dropped back as the race began to wind down. In the end, he took the checkered flag from the 9th position. Kenseth ended the season 5th in the standings.

While Kenseth might have gone winless, his pit crew didn’t. Congratulations to the No. 17 crew, who won the 2010 Tissot Pit Crew of the Year award! 

6. Greg Biffle - (-375) - Stacie Ball
That’s a wrap! The 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is officially over and in the books. Greg Biffle and his team, in my eyes, had one of the best comebacks ever by finishing sixth in the standings. The naysayers definitely were wrong about him not having what it takes to get back into the game after his engine failure earlier in the Chase. For me, I had to look at it from a positive perspective, not giving up hope. Yes, I know other cars had some mishaps, which brought him back into the top 10, and which I think is pretty darn good after being in 10th a few weeks back.

By the time the first caution flag flew on lap 17 of the Ford 400, Biffle had made his way up to the 22nd position. The Pit Bulls picked up four spots in the pits after giving him four fresh tires and fuel. The next caution came out on lap 24 as he was running in the 16th position, and he opted to stay out to retain his track position. The field restarted on lap 27 and he continued his climb toward the top 10.

A round of green-flag stops began on lap 67. Biffle made his way into the 12th position and he pitted three laps later for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment as the car had become a little tight. Over the course of the next 100 laps, the Pit Bulls made several wedge and air pressure adjustments during three pit stops under caution to try to fine-tune the car.

Following a pit stop on lap 201, Biffle reported that the car was the best it had been all day. He was running 12th at the time and drove all the way up to ninth before a round of green-flag stops began on lap 238. Erwin instructed Biffle to pit on lap 240 for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment and a caution came out five laps later before the cycle was complete.

Biffle stayed out and restarted seventh on lap 250, but some of the drivers behind him with fresher tires initially got by him. He dropped back to 13th, but was able to get by three cars in the closing laps for a 10th-place finish.

“It was a pretty good day,” Biffle said. “We were off just a little bit with this car. I think our other car was faster. We had to go to a backup car. It was a good day for us, but I just wish we could have finished up there a little higher. That last caution hurt us because I thought we were better than that and guys got to start behind us with new tires. I’m happy Carl won two in a row at the end of the year and we’ve got our program turned around. It’s good for us.”

I have to say earlier in the season I never thought Ford would bounce back, which they did once the win for Biffle came in July. I actually liked being proven wrong. Thank you to Greg Biffle, Greg Erwin and the Pit Bulls for an amazing Chase, along with making me believe in the sport of NASCAR again by not giving up. It was an honor to follow you the last 10 weeks for Skirts and Scuffs. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what comes next year for the team!

7. Tony Stewart - (-401) - Unique Hiram

The 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has officially ended and Tony Stewart ended it on a high note at the conclusion of the Ford 400. He started the race in the 31st position and ended up finishing in the eighth position when the checkered flag waved. Upon entering this final race, Smoke was seeded ninth in the Sprint Cup Chase points standings; however, due to his great finish it moved him up to seventh in the final standings. This is a great testament about how persistence and hard work can pay off dividends when you have that fighting can-do spirit.

“We worked really hard today for an eighth-place finish,” said Stewart after completing his 12th full season in the elite Sprint Cup Series. “I think it sort of mirrors our season. We worked hard all year long – everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing did. We really had a phenomenal year last year, and we knew it would be hard to maintain that this year. Sure enough, we faced more adversity this year than we did last year, but no one ever gave up, no one ever quit. We all just kept digging. We did that all day today. We went a lap down twice, worked our way back onto the lead lap both times, and ended the day with a top-10. Nothing spectacular, but a solid result nonetheless.”

Additionally, Smoke had this to say about the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson - “He’s the best that’s ever been and five straight championships, in this era, that proves it.”

Although Tony Stewart and the #14 Office Depot/Old Spice team had their share of challenges this season, they have proven that they are tough contenders who will keep fighting until the final checkered flag waves for the season. The 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season should prove to be even more exciting for this team because they are like the Energizer Bunny who keeps "going and going."

8. Kyle Busch - (-440) - Lindi Bess
a3 235
Photo Credited to Tracey Ziolkowski
With the 2010 NASCAR season ending and his upcoming nuptials Dec. 31, Kyle Busch’s year is far from over. In fact, you could say it's just the beginning. But before we say goodbye to the 2010 season, let's look back on Kyle’s very exciting year and what I’m calling ‘Kyle’s Miles.’

Homestead-Miami Speedway was the setting for the 2010 NASCAR season finale. The 2010 Sprint Cup Championship race was one of the most exciting it had been in recent years. It actually got down to the final laps before it was known who was going to walk away with the coveted Sprint Cup Championship.

Kyle went into the 2010 Chase fourth in the points standings. After not making the Chase in 2009, Kyle was ready to show what he was made of in 2010. New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, N.H. marked race #1 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. It was here that Kyle began his trek for the championship.

When asked his thoughts about this season and the Chase, Busch said, “I’m looking forward to it. We have a good opportunity to come out here and run strong. I don’t think we are going to shock the world, but hopefully we will steal one out of the bag.”

Kyle Busch remained a strong contender in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Then his visions of winning the 2010 Championship disappeared from his sight during the NSCS Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway. The #00 of David Reutimann admittedly chose to retaliate for an earlier incident and purposely slammed into #18 Toyota Camry and caused very serious damage to his car.

They repaired the car and got him back on the track, but not before he went from his 4th place position in the Chase to 7th in the standings. Both he and his team deserve to be commended on their ability to get the car back on the track and finally finishing on the lead lap, but in 21st position.
HOMESTEAD
Photo Credited to Tracey Ziolkowski

Kyle’s 2010 Sprint Cup statistics were nothing to be ashamed of. With 3 wins, 10 top 5s and 18 top 10s, 3 DNFs, an average finish of 14 and average start was 15.8. His total winnings for the Sprint Cup Series were $6,088,001.


Kyle’s 2010 NNS statistics were above and beyond what anyone would have thought possible: 13 wins, 21 top 5s and 24 top 10s, an average finish of 5.1 and start of 4.2. His winnings totaled $1,277,890.


Kyle’s NCWTS stats were awesome. With eight wins, 13 top 5s and 14 top 10s. Average start: 4.3, Average finish: 4.0, 1 DNF and Total Winnings: $616,110 (+ bonuses).
sam and kyle kissing
Photo Credited to Tracey Ziolkowski

Kyle had an extremely exciting year, sweeping Bristol in August in all three of NASCAR’s top series. He broke many records and seasonwise his stats were incomparable. When it came down to Homestead, he actually went into Sunday's Ford 400 with the chance to sweep the weekend as Busch had won Friday’s Ford 200 CWTS Race and then took Saturday's NNS Ford 300, his second race of the weekend.


The #18 Toyota Camry was racing smart Sunday and slowly but stealthlike, Kyle moved forward, actually having led 57 laps for the race. It was lap 243 when Busch’s hopes for another sweep where shot down in flames.
Kevin Harvick, while carrying a grudge against NASCAR for an earlier violation, took out the #18. Kyle’s car was engulfed in flames and he had to be pulled from the wreckage by track personnel. This incident ended the race for Kyle Busch. You can bet he’ll come back next year with a few crosses to bare.


He also won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owners' championship with his own No. 18 Toyota. Busch also secured the NNS owners' championship at Saturday's Ford 300 for Joe Gibbs Racing.

After following Kyle this year, I have definitely become a fan. While I am still a Jimmie Johnson fan second, only to NASCAR, Busch comes in a strong third. Here’s to a great off-season and we’ll see you next year with more excitement and intrigue than you can stand.

9. Jeff Gordon - (-446) - Genevieve Cadorette
Jeff Gordon didn’t finish the race at the Ford 400 on Sunday in Homestead, Fla.

He started in 11th position and moved ahead to the seventh spot. He had been heard saying that his car was tight through the center and loose getting in and was unable to run to the top. On lap 59, he reported, “"Up top now, just a little too tight when I pick up the throttle."

On lap 98, there was a caution. He fell back to 31st position and was a lap down; he pitted with the leaders.

With 67 laps to go to the finish, the 24 car’s engine blew up, ending his season. He finished ninth in points and told reporters, "Heck of an effort boys. This is just the way things have been this year, things just haven't gone our way. We'll work hard to fix these things and come back strong next year."

10. Clint Bowyer - (-467) - Amy McHargue
Coming into Homestead, Clint Bowyer had plans to run strong and gain a few spots in the Chase if at all possible. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be for Clint and his team this year. After qualifying in the 17th position, Clint just could not gain much ground on Sunday. The team needed a spectacular day in Homestead that just didn't happen. After the first pit stops on lap 22, Bowyer was posted on the board in 12th position, but by lap 47 he was back to 16th. As lap 137 was completed on the track, Bowyer was shown in 21st.

In a quiet race for Clint, he was as low in the field as 21st place and never cracked the top 10. This #33 Cheerios team just didn't seem to have the car under them to make anything big happen. Fortunately, Clint kept the car out of trouble and salvaged what he could out of a mediocre racecar. He had moved up to 12th by lap 156 but after pit stops on lap 180 Bowyer came back to the green flag in the 19th position again. By the end of the race, Clint had moved up to 12th place; it was enough to move Clint Bowyer up one spot in the Chase to the Championship. Clint finishes the year 10th in the standings.

11. Kurt Busch - (-480) - Rebecca Kivak
Kurt Busch has struggled throughout the 2010 Chase for the Sprint Cup, and the season finale at Homestead was no different. After an early-race incident impeded his progress, Busch finished 18th in his final race in the legendary Blue Deuce. Busch, who had been ranked 10th in the points standing prior to the race, fell to 11th, missing his last chance to represent sponsor Millier Lite at next week's annual Sprint Cup banquet.

Busch started Sunday's Ford 400 in the 15th position, but wasted little time in moving up, reaching 8th in the opening laps. But on lap 17, David Reutimann hit the wall. Busch, running the high line, was unable to avoid the 00 and struck the rear of the car. After the incident, the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge was unable to be competitive and Busch even went a lap down. With 100 laps left, Busch took the wave-around to get back on the lead lap. After a caution for debris on lap 186, Busch pitted and the crew was able to finish straightening out the tow-in. As a result, the Blue Deuce gained its competitive form back and Busch was able to break into the top 15. But his troubles weren't over.

"The 9 car checked up and the 98 blocked us and we were in the wall again. We caught a break when the caution came out for Kyle’s (Busch’s) crash and the leaders had pitted (and he hadn’t), but it was too little too late," Busch said. "We really wanted to have a great run here in our final race in the 'Blue Deuce,' but it just wasn’t meant to be."

Busch lost ground in the final points standings to Clint Bowyer, whose 12-place finish shot him ahead of Busch for the 10th spot - and a seat at the banquet.

After bringing his 180-race stretch in the Blue Deuce to a close, Busch will take on the familiar red and yellow colors of Pennzoil/Shell when he steps into the No. 22 Penske Dodge for the 2011 season.

12. Jeff Burton - (-589) - Genna Short
Jeff Burton didn’t make any big splashes during the final weeks of the Chase. That is, if you don’t count the wrecks and fights he was involved in.

What began as a weekend and race with a lot of potential ended in a disappointing 31st-place finish - a full 29 spots behind where he finished in the same race one year ago.

While he managed a respectable 14th place in qualifying, he was fast in practice. He led final practice with a speed of 169.545 mph, 0.039 ahead of eventual pole winner Kasey Kahne. In the first two practices, he was 33rd and second. While the car appeared to get progressively better over the course of the day, it just wasn’t enough to hold up during Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead.

Early in the race, Burton broke the top five and was challenging Jimmie Johnson for fourth place by lap 68. However, during green-flag pit stops, he had a poor spot and lost the lead lap by lap 73. He fell to 34th place but got back his lap after he gained the free pass on lap 135.

Bad only became worse. On lap 183, he smacked the wall and began to fall back even more. He was never able to pick up the pace again.

He is ready to move on to next season, though.

“We collectively have got to find a way to bring the speed to all the weekends that we have on some of the weekends. These are big factors, but those are the things that jump out to me that we need to be better at,” he stated on Friday.

“I really think that we can go fast enough to win the championship next year, but we've got to find the little speed that we lost through the summer. We showed it at Phoenix, we showed it at Martinsville, but we haven't shown it on the big tracks as of late and we've got to get that back.”

A note from Genna:
Recaps, previews, stats, numbers - they aren’t really my thing. When I took on Jeff Burton race coverage for Katy, 10 races ago, I never thought I would have so much fun doing this. Thanks for reading everyone and on to 2011!

And that's a wrap! Skirts and Scuffs would like to thank all our readers who have followed our Chase coverage. Here's looking forward to what the 2011 season holds!

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Photos courtesy of NASCAR Media, Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing

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