The racing gods must be smiling. Certainly, the powers that be at NASCAR have to be. With three races to go, a mere 38 points separates the three remaining contenders for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
Who would have thought we would actually be looking forward to three races on three intermediate tracks? As we will see, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead- Miami offer sufficiently level playing fields for championship hopefuls Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick as they seek to dethrone four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson.
While his numbers aren’t as gaudy as the others, Kevin Harvick fans have every reason to be optimistic. While he’s never won at Texas, the fiery Bakersfield native has three top fives and seven top tens in 15 career starts at TMS, good for a solid career average finish of 12.9. At Phoenix, Harvick was a pair of career wins. At Homestead-Miami, he’s never been a winner, but Harvick has a strong finishing average of 8.4, suggesting he has it in him.
Some may view Denny Hamlin’s confidence as cockiness, but it’s like they say, it’s not cockiness if you can back it up. Hamlin was a winner last spring at Texas, and he’s finished in the top ten in seven of his ten starts there. In five of his ten races at Phoenix, the Virginian has finished top five and has a solid average finish of 11.6 at PIR. Last season, Hamlin capped a strong campaign with a win at Homestead and he’s finished top five in three of his five career starts for a sparkling finishing average of 10.6.
Whatever mojo Harvick and Hamlin have they will need to unseat the champ. Johnson has four wins at Phoenix, a win to go with seven top fives and ten top tens at Texas, and though he’s never won at Homestead-Miami, his average finish of 12.7 is pretty darn pleasing for a guy who’s done nothing more than play “prevent” defense en route to his previous titles.
Here’s a weird, random thought heading into Texas: do you know who, among these three leading contenders has had the worst finish in this year’s Chase? If you guessed Jimmie Johnson, you’d be right as “Double J” finished 25th at the Chase opener in New Hampshire. The point here being that Johnson’s challengers have been amazing in that they have been remarkably consistent, and they’ve avoided that one really bad race that has befallen other prior challengers.
Sooner or later, you have to think someone is going to blink — that one of these guys is going to muff a race and allow someone to pull further out ahead. What that driver has to hope is that he has company in his misery if such an event should occur.
On the other hand, wouldn’t it be cool if this were settled on the final lap at Homestead? I wouldn’t bet against it at this point.