Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Up to Speed: Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

It all comes down to this.

After 35 race weekends, the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season comes down to one final race to determine the champion. Four drivers head into Homestead-Miami Speedway and the Ford Ecoboost 400 with an equal shot at the championship, while the other 36 drivers in the field are simply looking for a win to cap off the season.

Since its reconfiguration in 2003, Homestead has provided some great racing on its progressive banking on one of the true ovals on the circuit and that has only gotten better as the asphalt has aged, which makes Homestead a great place to host the season finale in which four drivers, all with equal points will battle it out for the championship. Regardless of how Sunday’s race shakes out, there is no doubt that Homestead will provide one of the most electric atmospheres of the season.

In addition to being the championship determining race, Homestead also marks the end of an era as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. makes his final start as a full-time Cup Series driver. The race will likely also be the last for Matt Kenseth, who announced that he would be taking a break starting in 2018, and Danica Patrick, who does not have a ride for next season after being dropped from Stewart-Haas Racing.

By the Numbers

What: Ford EcoBoost 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 36 of 36

Where: Homestead-Miami Speedway – Homestead, Florida (Opened: 1995 – First NASCAR Cup event: 1999 – Reconfigured: 2003)

TV/Radio: NBC, 3:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.5 mile oval

Banking: 18 to 20 degrees in turns, four degrees on straights

Race Length: 267 laps, 400.5 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages – 80 laps each, Final stage – 107 laps

Pit Road Speed: 45 mph

Pace Car Speed: 55 mph

2016 Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet (Started 14th – three laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (29.795 seconds, 181.238 mph – November 14, 2014)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Homestead:

  • Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 107.7
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 106.6
  • Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 101.8
  • Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 101.6
  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 97.8
  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 96.9
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 95.8
  • Chase Elliott – No. 24 Chevrolet – 95.5
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 88.5
  • Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 87.4

Tale of the Tape – Championship Contenders at Homestead

Kyle Busch – This is familiar territory for Busch, who has been a part of the Championship Four the past two seasons and came away with the title at Homestead in 2015. He has one win (2015), two top-five finishes, five top-10 finishes, 279 laps led, and an average finish of 19.8 in 12 starts.

Kevin Harvick – Likewise, Harvick has also had a successful past at Homestead and has been a part of the Championship Four since its inception in 2014. Harvick’s 2014 win at the track propelled him to the championship that year and he also has eight top-five finishes, 14 top-10 finishes, one pole, 315 laps led, and an average finish of 6.9 in 16 starts.

Brad Keselowski – Making his first appearance in the Championship Four, Keselowski will look to score his second Cup Series championship and first in the playoff era. In nine Homestead starts, Keselowski has yet to win on the 1.5 mile track, but has two top-five finishes (2014 and 2015), three top-10 finishes, 106 laps led, and an average finish of 15.9.

Martin Truex, Jr – Heading into Homestead as the title favorite and the only of the four without a championship, Truex makes his second appearance in the playoff finale and first since 2015. Though he has never won at Homestead, Truex has three top-five finishes (2011, 2012, 2013), seven top-10 finishes, 111 laps led, and an average finish of 12.3 in 12 starts.

From the Driver’s Seat

“You have to be able to run the wall, it seems like, for a lot of that race, because the speed is up against the fence,” said Kasey Kahne. “So, just being confident with that, confident with the grip of your car and then you also have to move around late in the race. It seems like the wall kind of goes away a lot of times. I’ve always liked Homestead. I’ve won one race there in XFINITY and ran well in Cup races, led a lot of laps. But it’s a track that’s really tough to win at. To me, the pace falls off a ton and it’s rough in spots. I think it’s one of our tougher tracks throughout the season.”

Last Time at Homestead

Last year, the Ford EcoBoost 400 was shaping up to be a battle with Carl Edwards and Kyle Larson down the stretch. The two drivers had combined to lead 179 laps in the race, with Larson in position for the race win and Edwards in position to claim the championship, but a caution with 15 laps to go changed everything.

On the ensuing restart, Joey Logano made an aggressive move to try and pass Edwards on the apron of the frontstretch, which forced Edwards to throw the block to try and halt Logano’s advance. As a result of the block, the two cars made contact, sending Edwards’ Toyota spinning head-on into the inside SAFER barrier. From that point on, Edwards’ car spun back across the track as he made contact with a few other cars before making another hard impact with the outside wall.

In a matter of seconds, the hopes of Edwards being able to capture the championship were gone.

With Edwards out of the picture, Larson re-asserted himself into the lead, but the final caution with three laps to go bunched everyone back up again and gave Jimmie Johnson the chance he needed.

Johnson jumped into the lead on the restart and never looked back, leading the last three laps for the race win and the championship, moving him into a three way tie with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty with seven championships apiece.

Larson finished second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Logano, and Jamie McMurray to round out the top-five.

“Just beyond words,” said Johnson. “Just didn’t think the race was unfolding for us like we needed to do to be the champs, but we just kept our heads in the game. Chad called a great strategy, made some great adjustments for the short runs.  Luck came our way and we were able to win the race and win the championship.

“I wouldn’t be here without so many people believing in me and giving me this chance; from my dirt days – my parents first and foremost, my brothers, my wife and family today.  Car owners, sponsors, Chevrolet, Lowe’s, so many amazing people along the way that believed in me to give me this chance.  Jeff Gordon, Rick Hendrick, all the men and women at Hendrick Motorsports for working so hard to get these cars fast and giving me an awesome 15 years with the company. Just thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

“So thrilled to be in this moment and so grateful for the opportunity and so thankful and blessed. I am at a loss for words.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, November 17

  • MENCS Practice (12:30 pm to 1:55 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Qualifying (6:15 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, November 18

  • MENCS Practice (10:00 am to 10:55 am – CNBC)
  • MENCS Final Practice (1:00 pm to 1:50 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, November 19

  • MENCS Ford EcoBoost 400 (3:00 pm – 267 laps, 400.5 miles – NBC)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.