The final race of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season is upon us! Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch will battle it out on track to determine who will be crowned the NASCAR Sprint Cup series champion. Whoever wins the 267-lap Ford EcoBoost 400 or finishes the highest of the Championship Four, will take home the title.
Qualifying to set the grid will be business as usual and will commence later today at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With 41 cars on the current roster, one will be eliminated. The No. 49 NASCAR Heat Evolution Toyota driven by Matt DiBenedetto and the No. 55 RoyalTeak.com/Backyard Company Toyota with Reed Sorensen must qualify on time. The whole field will start round one with the fastest 24 based on lap times advancing to round two. With five minutes on the clock for round three, the top 12 from round two will run for the pole.
Homestead-Miami Speedway only shows up once a year on the NASCAR calendar. Like many venues on the NASCAR circuit, it is a 1.5-mile oval. The straightaways on the track feature three-degree banking with the four turns boasting a progressive banking of 18 to 20 degrees.
This venue has a unique history. After the Homestead area was hit by Hurricane Andrew in the early 90’s, the 1.5-mile track was constructed as part of a plan to help the devastated area rebound. Groundbreaking began in 1993, exactly a year after the hurricane, and the facility opened two years later in 1995.
Kyle Busch is the defending race winner. The No. 18 M&M’s Toyota driver came into last year’s championship round with no Chase race win under his belt. That all changed at the south Florida speedway as he propelled himself to his first Cup championship by leading 41 laps.
Busch’s story is similar this season. He again has not won a race in the playoff part of the season. He almost missed a shot at competing for his second championship after hovering around the bottom four until the final overtime laps during last week’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix. He likes his odds of pulling off a repeat performance.
“It’s all reset to zero,” Busch said in a Toyota Racing advance. “There are four of us who go for winner-take-all at Homestead. It means a lot to have that opportunity not only for myself, but for M&M’S, Toyota, Interstate Batteries and everyone at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) who helps us to be as good as we’ve been. It’s what your whole season comes down to.”
Carl Edwards is a teammate of Busch. After finishing second to Tony Stewart in 2011, Edwards is poised to get the job done this year. “We are headed to Homestead tied for the points lead and have a chance to win the championship – it doesn’t get any better than this,” Edwards said, also in the Toyota Racing advance. “We’ve had a lot of fun this year and everybody on this team is looking forward to this opportunity.”
The driver of the No. 19 ARRIS Surfboard Toyota Camry recently tested at Homestead and his record on other mile-and-a-half tracks is absolutely nothing to sneeze at. Another thing to keep in mind is that he has two previous wins on this track that came in 2008 and 2010. “We had a pretty decent test down there at Homestead and at the last two mile-and-a-half tracks we’ve been very fast – both at Kansas and Texas – so I feel like we’re going to be able to do some good there,” Edwards said. “Everything we do all weekend will count, everything is important and it’s those kinds of situations that make for some fun competition. We’ve got three tough competitors that we’ve got to beat. I know they’re going to bring their ‘A’ game and that really makes it special too.”
Jimmie Johnson is a six-time Sprint Cup champion but this is the first time that the driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet and his crew chief Chad Knaus will contend under the fairly new Chase format.
“It’s a little different for sure,” Knaus said during a Team Chevy press conference two days ago. “Obviously we've been able to go down to Homestead and bid for the championship in a lot of different scenarios, with a points deficit, with a points lead, and this is definitely unique, starting at zero and just going out there for the best man to win. I'm comfortable with it. I'm looking forward to it.”
Johnson, who has never won at Homestead, is also pumped about racing for his seventh title. “I couldn’t have dreamed this big,” he said in a Hendrick Motorsports advance. “I never even thought I could win one race or one championship, and here we are poised for a shot at a seventh title. Nothing is guaranteed in this sport and you never know when your last win will be. It’s incredible to be in this position with this No. 48 Lowe’s team and to have a shot at it.”
Joey Logano is in the championship hunt for the second time in three years of the elimination-style format. If the driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford could get the job done, it would also be a title added to the Team Penske trophy case in their 50th year of motorsports competition.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to be here,” Logano said in a Ford Racing advance. “There are only four of us that get the opportunity to get to race for a championship and that’s an amazing opportunity we’re gonna get to enjoy and be excited about, and embrace the pressure and have some fun with this whole thing.”
Logano knows this weekend will not be a cake walk.
“I don’t think it’s ever easy,” he said. “Everyone is here for a reason. These are the four best teams this year. It’s been proven that they’ve either been consistent or can win when they have to, if they had some troubles earlier in one of the rounds. Everyone was able to get through and there’s not many guys who are able to do it. It’s so close. There’s a lot of pressure that has been put on these race teams and these are the race teams that are able to handle it. A lot of people can go different ways when there is pressure put on them, but these teams here seem to be the ones that are best this year and one of them will prevail at the end.”
Tony Stewart will be making the final laps of his Sprint Cup career this weekend at Homestead where he has won three times previously. The driver of the No. 14 Always A Racer/Mobil 1 Chevrolet’s final season has been a rollercoaster ride. Along with a win this summer at Sonoma, the three-time Cup champion (2002, 2005, 2011) has earned five top five’s and eight top 10’s in 2016.
Stewart may be done in Sprint Cup competition but he is not done behind the wheel. “You’re going to see me driving a lot next year, but most of it will be on dirt,” Stewart said in a team advance from Stewart-Haas Racing. “I kind of look at this as halftime of my career and I’ll still be around the NASCAR garage. I’ll just have more time. I can focus now on what I want to do and my job at SHR.”
Qualifying for the FordEco Boost 400 is later this evening at 6:15 PM ET on NBCSN, MRN and Sirius XM Channel 90. Race coverage begins Sunday afternoon at 2:30 PM ET or your local NBC affiliate and both radio outlets.