Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: It comes down to one race and 3 points

This is what Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart
are vying for on Sunday - the Sprint Cup championship.
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR

One race decides the Sprint Cup championship - 35 weeks of racing is now down to a mere three-point separation between the leader, Carl Edwards, and the challenger, Tony Stewart.

With four wins in the Chase, Stewart has momentum while Edwards has consistency on his side after leading the points for more than 20 weeks throughout the season.

Who will leave Homestead with the Cup hoisted above his head? Tune in Sunday to see - it is bound to be a battle until the final lap.

Skirts and Scuffs breaks down the Chase drivers' chances in the season finale at Homestead.

1. Carl Edwards – Heading to his “magical” place – By Amanda Ebersole
Top 5s: 4, Top 10s: 6, Wins: 2

For Carl Edwards, consistency has been the word to sum up his 2011 season. With just one win (Las Vegas), Edwards has led the points for a vast majority of the season.

Ending the season at Homestead is a perfect track for Edwards. In just seven career races, Edwards has only one finish outside of the top 10, back in his rookie year of 2004.

Edwards boasts an average start at Homestead of 13.4; his average finish is 5.7, which is the best of all active drivers. He has also led a total of 441 laps here, the most among active drivers. According to NASCAR’s statistics compiled over the last seven races at Homestead, Edwards has turned 173 of the track’s fastest laps, spent 1,379 laps in the top 15, and has a driver rating of 117.5, which leads all active drivers in these categories. 

During the championship contenders press conference Thursday, Edwards was asked about his nerves headed into this weekend. "There's a couple reasons that I'm not nervous about this, and they're personal reasons, they're reasons that maybe someday I'll talk to you more about in-depth," said Edwards. 

"I'm truly just excited about this. And it is interesting to me. I've learned a lot about Tony, the way he competes, by what he's said. I've paid attention to what he says. I pay attention to the way he looks when he gets out of the racecar, the body language he uses, things like that. I've learned a lot."

2. Tony Stewart (-3) - It will be a heated battle until the checkered flag waves at Homestead-Miami – By Unique Hiram
Top 5s: 3, Top 10s: 6, Wins: 2

Tony “Smoke” Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, is headed to a track where he has 12 starts, led 385 laps and completed 3,206 laps. In addition to that, he is also a two-time Cup champion that is close to winning a third with only a small margin of points separating him and the current points leader Carl Edwards.

In response to a question asked about the advantage of being a two-time Cup champion, Smoke had this to say: “It’s definitely an advantage, but I’m not going to tell you why because that’s what I’m going to take to Homestead with me. We win this thing, I’ll tell you what the advantage is and why, but not until then.”

Stewart feels that the final battle between Edwards and himself is exciting and exhilarating due to the sportsmanship that has been shown up to this point in the Chase. It’s been a close hard-fought battle for both of these drivers to get to this point and “Smoke” is happy about the way that he and his team have worked hard to be in this position.

“We’ve both had to fight and fight and fight to get every point we can get up to this point. I think it makes it more gratifying, the results, at the end of the day. I feel like I’m working toward something and I feel like if we accomplish this, we have worked for it, not had it handed to us, not had it given to us. That’s all you can ask for as a driver, is to be in that position.”

He is currently sitting second in the standings, just three points behind Edwards. It will definitely be a heated battle to the end when the checkered flag waves for the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase finale.

3. Kevin Harvick (-51) - Heading to a favorite track to end the season strong – By Amanda Ebersole
Top 5s: 5, Top 10s: 8, Wins: 0

Sitting in third place, the same as last season, Kevin Harvick is heading to one of his favorite racetracks.

With an average finish of 7.9 and an average running position of 9.8 (third-best among active drivers), Harvick’s stats match his sentiments about Homestead.

As for why Homestead is one of his favorite tracks, Harvick said, "Homestead is one of those racetracks that you don't know when it is going to stop aging. It seems like every time we return to the track it loses a little grip, which is a good thing. Since they repaved the track a few years back it has become one of my favorites. You can move all around trying to find a groove that works for you. There are a lot of different places where you can make your car work. For me it has been a lot of fun to race on."

4. Brad Keselowski (-65) - "Cheers to the Champion" at Homestead - By Rebecca Kivak
Top 5s: 0, Top 10s: 0, Wins: 0

It’s been a whirlwind season for Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite team. In just Keselowski’s second full year in Sprint Cup and his first behind the wheel of the legendary Blue Deuce, the Penske Racing driver collected three wins to propel himself into his first Chase and challenge for the Sprint Cup championship. 

With one race to go, Keselowski will fall short of the title, but he is in position to claim a top-5 points finish this year, a whopping 20 or so spots higher than his 25th-place points finish in 2010. The back of his bumper this weekend at Homestead will say “Cheers to the Champion,” a congratulations to the eventual champion.

Keselowski has a short history at Homestead. In three starts at the 1.5-mile track, he has one top-15 finish, a 13th place in last year’s race, and an average finish of 20.3. At the four other 1.5-mile tracks in the Chase, Keselowski has an average finish of 12.0.

Going into the final race of the season, Keselowski said, “I like going to Homestead and I enjoy the racing that it provides. One of the coolest things about that track is just how wide it is. I think it’s really a racy track. I like how you can run the top, middle and bottom. It’s kind of got a Michigan feel, so to speak, and it’s a good race.”

5. Jimmie Johnson (-68) - Homestead marks the end of the Johnson dynasty - By Rebecca Kivak
Top 5s: 4, Top 10s: 7, Wins: 0 

For the first time since 2003, five-time champion Jimmie Johnson enters Homestead mathematically eliminated from the Sprint Cup championship. As Five-Time’s reign comes to an end, Johnson can still finish the season in Victory Lane at Homestead, a track where he has yet to notch a race win.

Despite being winless at the 1.5-mile oval, Johnson’s stats are solid at the Miami racetrack. In 10 starts, the driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet has four top 5s, seven top 7s, two poles and an average finish of 11.6. In his last three starts here, Johnson has finished in the top 5 twice, including a second-place finish last fall that cemented his historic fifth consecutive title.

This weekend Johnson’s goal is to finish the year in the top 5 in the standings, aiming to keep alive a streak of finishing no worse than fifth in the points since his rookie season in Sprint Cup in 2002.

After his shot at a sixth title ended last week, Johnson said, “Even though we’re not in position to win the championship now, we’re going to go to Homestead and try to have our best race down there that we can and finish as high as we can in the points.”

6. Matt Kenseth (-70) Looking to end the season on a high note - By Katy Lindamood
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 4, Wins: 1

Where did we go wrong? What moment or moments cost us the title? Those are the thoughts going through the minds of 10 drivers as we head into the final event of the season. Although it's hard to place blame on one single incident, the No. 17 crew can look at Martinsville as the race that wrecked their chances of being crowned Sprint Cup Series champions.

Although Kenseth won't be sitting at the head table in Las Vegas, the team should be proud of their 2011 accomplishments and with one race remaining, the chance for another win is still a possibility. Homestead-Miami Speedway has been a strong track for Roush-Fenway Racing over the last couple of years. In 11 starts in South Florida, Kenseth has one win, two top 5s and 4 top 10s. Although not quite up to par with his teammate Edwards' recent numbers, Kenseth finished ninth last fall.

Can the Crown Royal Ford Fusion end the season on a high note? Or will paybacks be the name of the game this Sunday? Tune in to find out.

7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-102) - Progress not perfection - By LJ Cloud
Top 5s: 0, Top 10s: 0, Wins: 0 

On the surface Dale Earnhardt Jr. appears to have had a lackluster first season with new crew chief Steve Letarte. He led only 52 laps, where last season he led 185. However, he's already had four top fives where he had three last season, 12 top 10s where he had just eight in 2010, and there's one race left for him to get that ever-elusive win. He's improved his average finish, too: 14.6 over 18.6 last season. Earnhardt sits 7th in points heading in to Homestead. Last year he was mired back in 19th.

The No. 88 team hits the track every weekend with the same question hanging over them - will this be the week they finally get that win? Looking at Earnhardt's history at the track, it's not likely. In the 11 races at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he's never cracked the top 10. In fact, he's only finished in the top 15 twice. His best finish was 13th back in 2000.

While the track hasn't been kind to him, Earnhardt's chemistry with Letarte seems to have clicked and his confidence level improved, so it's possible that Junior Nation will be able to end the season celebrating the win for which they've so patiently waited. Not Vegas odds, perhaps, but Earnhardt fans will take them.

8. Kurt Busch (-107) Looking toward Homestead to end the season strong - By Genevieve Cadorette
Top 5s: 4, Top 10s: 4, Wins: 1 

Kurt Busch heads to Homestead-Miami’s Ford 400 for the final race of 2011 8th in points. Although his chances to win the Sprint Cup title are over, there’s still a chance for him to win the final race. Busch's Homestead statistics are high with two poles, four top fives, four top 10s, and one win.

He ends his 2011 season in the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge with a season-to-date driver rating of 95.2. He has two wins, eight top fives, and 16 top 10s. He was on a pole-winning streak for the start of the summer. With all of this behind him, Kurt Busch has to admit, it’s been a good season for him after all.

9. Ryan Newman (-107) - Making gains when it counts - By Lindi Bess
Top 5s: 0, Top 10s: 3, Wins: 0 

Ryan Newman is currently ninth in the Chase standings, after moving up two positions following Phoenix. Although we are now down to the final race and Newman's too far behind to win the championship, I'm sure he would still like to come out with one final win for the No. 39 team and pick up another couple of places in the points.

Homestead isn't Newman's best track, which would make a win even that much more memorable. The No. 39 will be running a brand new chassis that hasn't been on track previously. With his past stats at Homestead including only three top 10s, maybe this new chassis will make a difference.

Newman was quoted as saying, "We're feeling a lot better after our fifth-place, come-from-behind performance in Phoenix. It hasn't been the kind of Chase that we had anticipated back in Chicago (the beginning of the Chase), but if we can end the season with a performance like we had in Phoenix, it would make things better for our U.S. Army team during the offseason. You always want to end the season with a feel-good performance. There's a lot of buzz at our Stewart-Haas Racing shop about Tony (Stewart) and the No. 14 team. The spirit is high, knowing that Tony has a shot at winning the Sprint Cup championship. The (No. 14) team has done a remarkable job in the Chase and the battle between Tony and Carl (Edwards) is great for the sport. I know I'm excited about it and I am sure the fans feel the same way."

10. Denny Hamlin (-110) - Trying to hold onto 10th position - By Melissa Wright
Top 5s: 3, Top 10s: 3, Wins: 1 

Denny Hamlin heads into the final race of the 2011 Chase with a season-to-date driver rating of 88.0. At Homestead-Miami Speedway he has one win, three top fives and 13 top 10s. Hamlin has an average finish of 11.2 in six races and an average running position of 14.8 which is 11th best.

Hamlin will have to battle this week to stay in the 10th position in points. He is currently just two points out of 11th place. One mistake and he won't be participating in the celebration, that’s for sure.

11. Jeff Gordon (-112) - Heading to Vegas in question - By Lacy Keyser
Top 5s: 5, Top 10s: 9, Wins: 0 

Jeff Gordon looked very strong at the start of the season; the four-time Sprint Cup champion won three races, not to mention his 85th career victory. Slowly Gordon’s Chase hopes faded after several bad finishes.

Heading to Homestead, Gordon has an average finish of 11.8 in 12 races. Maybe, just maybe, Gordon can turn it around and salvage his season with a win and a trip to Las Vegas. 

12. Kyle Busch (-135) - Hoping his past bad luck at Homestead doesn't continue - By Holly Machuga
Top 5s: 0, Top 10s: 1, Wins: 0 

Homestead-Miami Speedway has proven to be a tough track for Kyle Busch with an average start of 16.0 and an average finish of 26.3. After his incident in the Truck Series just two weeks ago, he is looking forward to the end of the season.

When asked what he expects to accomplish in the final race, Busch answered: “It seems in a lot of ways like I’ve never been able to finish a race at Homestead. I always seem to run into bad luck there…”

It's the final round of "Cousin Carl" vs. "Smoke" and it comes down to this one race. Who will take home the coveted Sprint Cup and be known as the first champion of the post-Johnson era? We'll see on Sunday. This is going to be a great showdown!
Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: It comes down to one race and 3 points Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: It comes down to one race and 3 points Reviewed by Admin on Friday, November 18, 2011 Rating: 5