Photo: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

Up to Speed: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor

It all comes down to this. After 35 race weekends, the 2016 NASCAR Sprint 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.

Over the past two seasons it has taken a race win to claim the championship, so will we see the eventual champion claim victory for the third year in a row, or will one of the non-Chase drivers break up the championship party? It all goes down at 2:30 pm ET Sunday and will be televised on NBC.

By the Numbers

Opened: 1995 (First Cup Race: 1999 – Reconfigured: 2003)

Track Size: 1.5 mile oval (Banking: 18-20 degrees)

Race Length: 267 laps, 400.5 miles

Pit Road Speed: 45 mph

Pace Car Speed: 55 mph

2015 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started third, 41 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (29.795 seconds, 181.238 mph – November 11, 2014)

Top-10 Driver Ratings at Homestead:

  1. Carl Edwards – No 19 Toyota – 109.4
  2. Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 108.4
  3. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 105.0
  4. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Chevrolet – 104.3
  5. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 96.8
  6. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 96.3
  7. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 95.5
  8. Kyle Larson – No. 42 Chevrolet – 92.8
  9. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 88.8
  10. Kasey Kahne – No. 5 Chevrolet – 87.5

From the Driver’s Seat

“The key to Homestead is really maintaining momentum. It’s a unique track and it is so important to keep your car rolling because the banking progresses as you go through the corners. When you pick up the throttle it is more rewarding at that track than any other track because you can keep building speed as you exit. Having a car that’s good on entry because it is fairly flat, you are able to run up to the wall and it seems as if that’s one of the most important things. The race there doesn’t necessarily finish up at the wall but being good at the wall to get yourself up in good position to finish the race in the middle of the track or even the bottom is really important,” said Ryan Newman.

Last Time at Homestead

For Kyle Busch, Homestead would mark the completion of an incredible comeback that started with Busch suffering horrible injuries to his legs and feet in an Xfinity Series crash at Daytona to kick off the season. Despite the odds being stacked against him, Busch recovered from his injuries in enough time to race his way into the Chase and then was able to make it through the gauntlet of the first nine races of the playoffs to earn a spot in the finale and a chance at scoring his first series title.

Busch started the day in third place and by lap 20, found himself at the front of the field, where he would remain for much of the night. As the laps wound down and the remaining championship contenders in his rearview mirror, Busch looked to have the title on lockdown. However, a debris caution flew in the waning laps to give the other drivers one more shot at the younger Busch brother. With fellow championship contender Kevin Harvick  breathing down his neck, Busch took off like a rocket on the final restart and set sail to score the win and the championship. The first for Busch, Toyota, and his longtime sponsor M&M’s/Mars.

“It’s pretty unbelievable! A dream of a lifetime, a dream come true and something that only happens every so often. I just can’t believe with everything that happened this year and all the turmoil, all the things that I went through, that my wife (Samantha) went through and the people that are around me went through. This championship is all for these guys, my wife, my family, everyone who has had to sacrifice so much to get me here to this place today, whether it was on my team right now, or on my teams in the past,” said Busch.

“It’s really awesome, awesome, awesome – I can’t thank M&M’s enough. M&M’s Crispy is a phenomenal sponsor – I love the family, they are so great and with us here today. This is a long time coming for them. They’ve been in this sport two, maybe three times as long as I have been here and this is their first opportunity for a championship.

“I can’t thank Toyota enough, I had a very fast Toyota Camry tonight. Adam Stevens (crew chief) prepared such a great race car. Adam Stevens is my hero – I love that guy. I’m glad I could get the fifth win to get him a little bit more of a race for next year, that’s pretty awesome.

“I can’t thank Interstate Batteries enough, Monster Energy for sticking with me and all my fans. All the Kyle Busch fans out there –man I appreciate all you guys so much, everyone that follows me through the thick and the thin, through the good and the bad and all the ones that are always behind me – you guys are awesome! Everyone here, you guys are awesome, too. This is a dream come true, a dream come true.”

Tale of the Tape – Championship Contenders at Homestead

  • Carl Edwards – If the statistics are to be believed, Edwards looks to have the early advantage among the four championship contenders. Not only is Edwards in the midst of his best season since 2011, he is also heading to one of his best tracks on the circuit at Homestead, where his statistics top his championship rivals. Though he has failed to finish in the top-10 in the last four years, Edwards has two wins (2008 and 2010), five top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes, two poles, 568 laps led, and an average finish of 9.2 in 12 starts.
  • Jimmie Johnson – Johnson has never had to come to Homestead and had to produce to win one of his six championships, as he had built a large enough points gap to be able to cruise to the title in Miami each of those six years. However, that all changes this year, and Johnson will have to bring his A-game to be able to win historic championship No. 7. In 15 starts, Johnson has never won at Homestead, but has four top-five finishes, 10 top-10 finishes, two poles, 99 laps led, and an average finish of 14.1.
  • Joey Logano – Coming off of his win at Phoenix, Logano has the momentum heading into the season finale and will need the momentum to propel him to his first Cup Series championship. Logano has yet to win a race at a 1.5 mile track this season and has never won at Homestead, so he could kill two birds with one stone this weekend. Though he has never won, Logano has one top-five finish (2015), two top-10 finishes, one pole, 72 laps led (all of which came last year), and and an average finish of 17.7 in seven starts.
  • Kyle Busch – Entering as the defending champion, Busch could join the ranks of the elite with a second title, especially if he is able to win them back-to-back. In his 11 starts at Homestead, Busch has one win (2015), two top-five finishes, four top-10 finishes, 278 laps led, and an average finish of 21.1, which is the worst of the Championship 4.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, November 18

  • NSCS Practice (Fastest: Ryan Newman – No. 31 Chevrolet – 30.789 seconds, 175.387 mph)
  • NSCS Qualifying (Polesitter: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Chevrolet – 30.399 seconds, 177.637 mph)

Saturday, November 19

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

Sunday, November 20

  • NSCS Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead (2:30 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.

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