*Editor’s Note: The Motorsports Tribune NASCAR staff got together for a round table discussion about the upcoming Ford EcoBoost 400 (Sprint Cup Series Championship Race) in Homestead. They weigh in on three questions about the penultimate race.
QUESTION 1: Which non-Chase competitor could steal the show Sunday at Homestead?
JOEY BARNES, (Editor-in-Chief): Chase Elliott. He has been fast all weekend and it would be a fitting end to see him finally take that next step in the final race of his Sprint Cup Series career.
TOBY CHRISTIE, (NASCAR Editor): He has been fast Joey, but I really think Martin Truex Jr. will play spoiler to the Chasers on Sunday. He has also been fast, but he is trying to avenge being knocked out of the Chase. Truex will hit five wins in 2016.
SETH EGGERT (NASCAR Contributor): I agree with Joey, Chase Elliott. He has been impressive on 1.5 miles all season long, and has been fast all weekend. With the speed he has had and some luck, Elliott will earn his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race.
DAVID MORGAN (NASCAR Contributor): I’m with Toby. Truex has been blazing fast all season long and with them being eliminated from the Chase, he’ll want to end the season on a high note to set the tone for 2017.
MATTHEW BISHOP (Director of Photography): The best non chase driver who has a shot to win is Chase Elliott. Chase has had strong showings in practice and has been strong all year on high speed tracks. If he can nail a couple restarts tomorrow he has a great chance.
BRIAN EBERLY (Contributor): Kyle Larson. Always stout at running the high line and performing well at the halfway point of XFINITY race.
After his victory at Michigan, Larson had this to say: “If we make it to Homestead, I’d be super excited because we can rail at the top there pretty good.”
BARNES: There is no way this season ends with Chris Buescher as the only rookie to win in the Sprint Cup Series. Elliott will spoil the Championship contenders can only be the winners at Homestead’ plan. 1.5-mile tracks be damned, he’s out to finish what should of been wins at Chicagoland, Charlotte, and the 2-mile track at Michigan.
QUESTION 2: How many laps will be remaining when the final caution of the day comes out?
CHRISTIE: So you think we’ll see overtime Joey?
BARNES: It would appear so. Only to further the drama on an incredibly mild Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. I think we may finally see the fireworks we’ve all been seeking as a result.
CHRISTIE: I think the final caution comes with around 12 laps to go. And I think one or two of the competitors get their Championship hopes crushed on the ensuing restart. Then I believe the fireworks that you’re seeking appear in post-race.
EBERLY: Three. Will be an OT finish.
EGGERT: I actually have to disagree, Brian. The final caution will wave with about 10 laps to go, and by the time the clean up is complete, we will have a three lap shootout.
BISHOP: Final caution around 15 to go, it’ll set up a 10 or so lap shootout to the finish.
MORGAN: The caution has flown within 10 laps to go in the last two Homestead races, so I’ll split the difference and say the final caution comes out with five laps to go. Final restart will decide it all.
CHRISTIE: I just hope we don’t see another 30 lap caution period.
EBERLY: Agreed. Or any pit road controversy as we did last week. Fingers crossed for no questionable calls.
QUESTION 3: At the end of the Ford EcoBoost 400, who will be hoisting the Sprint Cup above their head?
EGGERT: If I had to pick one of the Championship Four, I would have to say Joey Logano. Arguably, he has lost two Championships, and once again he is on the cusp of another chance. The saying goes that the ‘third time is the charm.’
EBERLY: While I believe a valid argument can be made for any of the four, Johnson gets title No. 7 and his first under this format. The No. 48 has been laser focused and his calm demanor has been noted all week. Johnson and Knaus know how to perform under this level of pressure.
CHRISTIE: Usually you have to win one to lose one, so if that theory is true Carl Edwards and Joey Logano should be champ. However, I also think there is value in the fact that Jimmie Johnson has battled for championships nearly every year of his career. I will agree with you Brian and take Johnson. He’s too calm, confident and focused to lose this thing.
EGGERT: Brian, I also agree with you, but also think about this. If Johnson does indeed win his seventh Sprint Cup Championship, nearly one third of all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships would belong to one of three drivers, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Sr., and Jimmie Johnson.
BISHOP: Jimmie Johnson wins his 7th title. Hendrick Motorsports has been showing a lot of speed throughout the Chase. Johnson will capitalize and make history.
MORGAN: A Jimmie Johnson championship would be an amazing story with him scoring historic championship No. 7, but something about the way that Carl Edwards has handled himself this week and the speed they have shown tells me that Edwards will be the one scoring the title this season.
BARNES: There are several cool storylines for Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. From Jimmie Johnson seeking his seventh title, Joey Logano delivering for Team Penske and giving them both IndyCar and Sprint Cup titles in the team’s 50th anniversary, Kyle Busch going back-to-back, and Carl Edwards finally righting the ship for 2011 – and as great as all of those are, I honestly think Edwards is the one flying under the radar. His team was very happy with the test they had at Homestead last month, they won at Texas with incredible pace, so I think it’s going to him. Carl Edwards will be the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
CHRISTIE: But Jimmie.
BARNES: He’s on the Mount Rushmore of NASCAR legends, but it’s going to be a bit for him to get that seventh title. Hell, his track record at Homestead isn’t nearly as strong as the others.
EBERLY: But he’s never HAD to win at Homestead before.
EGGERT: I think Jimmie has a bit of added motivation with the revelation that Rick Hendrick had considered separating him and his crew chief Chad Knaus. I think that will be an added driving force for Jimmie to reach a seventh title.
CHRISTIE: I’ll leave you with this: Busch, Edwards and Logano have a combined 83 career wins and one championship.
Johnson, by himself, has 79 wins and six championships. That will change to 80 and seven after Sunday.
BARNES: And I’ll leave you with this – Johnson during modern Chase era, zero titles.
CHRISTIE: Same could be said for Logano and Edwards, who you picked Joey.
EGGERT: The modern Chase era is only two years old as well.
BARNES: Edwards has the pace on 1.5-mile tracks this season, won the last one at Texas, and has been a part of a mono-a-mono championship battle with Tony Stewart. Seems poetic that his first title will come in Stewart’s final race.
CHRISTIE: Edwards has one win on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Johnson on the other hand, has two wins on 1.5-mile tracks this year. Every argument points to Johnson winning this title.
MORGAN: But Johnson’s past history at Homestead does not lean in his favor. Any of the four have a shot, but Edwards has the best statistics out of all of them and that will lead him to the title.
BARNES: Also, Johnson’s never had to win Homestead, Edwards has the most wins of all Championship 4 drivers there. Experience there will pay off.
CHRISTIE: Great point Joey, we will all find out Sunday night.