NASCAR’s 36-race season comes to a close in South Florida this weekend as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 21. ESPN will have a live telecast of the final race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at 1 p.m. ET as the close championship battle involving Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick is decided.
On two episodes of NASCAR Now, ESPN2’s daily NASCAR news and information program, following the most recent race at Phoenix, ESPN analysts and former NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Dale Jarrett and Ricky Craven discussed the championship battle and the chances of all three drivers, who are separated by just 46 points.
How does Denny Hamlin recover from what happened at Phoenix?
Dale Jarrett – “It’s easy to get down but I think there’s two things you have to look at. If you would have told Denny Hamlin, Mike Ford and Joe Gibbs at the beginning of the Chase they could have a 15-point lead, not have to run the first nine races, and just run Homestead, they would have said we’ll take it because they said they were going to outrun them. And that name Joe Gibbs that I mentioned, that’s how they get over this. He is a great motivator; he knows how to get the most out of people. Turn disappointing things into very positive things. He’ll have these guys ready when they get to Homestead.”
Ricky Craven – “The extent that Denny Hamlin and Mike Ford can put this in their rearview mirror will determine their fate, and if they win their first title. They’ve got to focus on the positives. What are those? You’re still leading the point standings and there’s only one race left. You go to Homestead, the race that you won last year, with maybe the car that you won the mile-and-a-half race at Texas, some similarities, you have a chance to close this thing out. You have that 15-point lead, which was a by-product, by the way, of leading the most laps at Phoenix. You’ve got to think about the positives, there are a lot for the 11 team, and get over all the negatives.”
On the relationship between Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus –
Dale Jarrett – “I think there’s one thing that you have to understand from the driver’s side of it – you know that a lot of times that crew chief can be hard on you, and to the outside world it may seem a little bit harsh at times, but Jimmie appreciates it, he understands where Chad is coming from, and the other side of it is, you know that if you didn’t have that crew chief, that guy driving you all the time, then you probably wouldn’t have those championships and wins.”
How important is their experience as four-time champion?
Dale Jarrett – “Invaluable. Nobody else can boast that and say they have that. Harvick has Nationwide championships, Denny Hamlin doesn’t have any in the NASCAR series yet, but if that’s what was going to win it, they (Johnson) would win Sunday hands-down. And they may well do that. They know what they have to do and it’s right there in front of them. I think there’s a little more to it, but the experience side of it, they have everything that it takes in that respect.”
What does Kevin Harvick have to do Sunday?
Ricky Craven – “What I think is interesting is that we haven’t seen the very best from Kevin Harvick, but we’re going to. I’m absolutely convinced of that. This is his best track, roughly an 8th place average, and if he can take the lead early, and make it very clear to Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, ‘look, don’t forget about me,’ it changes the whole dynamic of this thing. Now you’ve got three guys worried about two other guys. Kevin has just been hanging on throughout the Chase. So I think he’s battle-tested. These other two guys, they might be in a little different situation than this. It’s a misconception if you think any of these guys are playing defense. With one race to go, they have to play offense. They really have to go at this like they’ve got to win the race, because if they don’t, they don’t control their own destiny.”
How should Denny Hamlin approach this?
Ricky Craven – “The same way he has the last four races. If he’s going to win this title, he has to take it from Jimmie Johnson and the 48. He’s going to have to do that with authority. He’s displayed that at Martinsville, Texas, even at Phoenix before he ran out of gas, and that’s how he has to approach it.”
Dale Jarrett – “He’s had the fastest race car in the Chase and I think that will serve him well at Homestead this weekend. He’s got to go there and get the job done. You know that it’s right there in front of you – you know what you have to do – stay in front of the 48 and 29.”
How does Jimmie Johnson approach this?
Ricky Craven – “He’ll be better this year (at Homestead) than he’s ever been before because it’s very disruptive to go into this type of racetrack and these circumstances and have to play defense. It doesn’t allow you be as aggressive with the racetrack as you’d ordinarily be. Now, he can run the high line, he can take some chances on corner exits, you have to transition there because it’s a progressive-banked racetrack. These guys will shift their positions to different lanes throughout the day. He’ll be better because of it. I just feel like Jimmie Johnson has been in this situation, almost every scenario in the last four years. So why isn’t he still the favorite?”
Dale Jarrett – “He knows going in if he can lead the most laps, win the race, then the championship is his, regardless of what else happens. That will be his mindset.”