The scenarios that will turn one of our 3 contenders into a champion at Homestead

When the cars come to life this Sunday, just 15 points will separate series leader Denny Hamlin from the four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin wins, as he did at Homestead a year ago, and the title is his. Johnson wins, but Hamlin leads the most laps, and the crown still goes to the challenger. Johnson wins and leads the most laps, it goes to him.

[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]Of course, that is if it comes down to one of the two winning, something Johnson has never done at Homestead. He was second in 2004, fifth last year, and he has 6 top tens in nine tries. Still, he has never won. Hamlin did just that in 2009, and with 3 top fives in the last four there, he could have the advantage. He also finished 13th in 2008, and seventh is all Johnson would need to take the crown for a fifth consecutive year if that should happen again this Sunday.

So, the Reader’s Digest version has Hamlin winning it all by finishing ahead of Johnson. Jimmie wins it by finishing anywhere from one to nine spots ahead of Denny. It will depend on who leads a lap, who leads the most laps (both which award five bonus points), and if we are talking about position gains equalling five (Top Five), four (Top Ten), or three points, which is the case for those spots outside the Top Ten.

As for Kevin Harvick, he would need to win, lead the most laps, and then he would claim it all if Hamlin is no better than 10th and Johnson 7th. That margin even shrinks if neither of those boys lead the most laps, or none at all. At least there is no way we could end up with a three way tie, right? Right? Well, there is. For example, if Harvick finishes second (170 points), Johnson leads a lap and finishes 10th (139 points), and Hamlin does not and winds up 13th (124 points), we would have, what they would call, a real interesting situation. Well, not really. The tie-breaker would go to the driver with the most wins, and Hamlin’s eight puts him in the driver’s seat, ahead of Johnson’s six and Harvick’s three.

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NASCAR took a risk when they went away from recognizing the most dominant car over the course of the season as champion, yet most fans bought into it. The change may have cost Jeff Gordon a couple of titles and Carl Edwards one, but it did extend the drama a few more weeks with even more contenders vying for the crown. Be it with ten, twelve, or even twenty in the Chase, the format works. However, to push this further with “winner take all” or “elimination round” formats would risk crowning a paper champion that has no legitimacy with the fans. You have to remember that sometimes the best driver, car, and team simply kicks the stuffings out of the competition. That is not the case this year.

When the action resumes at Homestead on Sunday, we will have three drivers, each with a legitimate chance to become the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. While Kevin Harvick might be forgiven for yearning for the classic system this season, the current format has presented us with a true “game seven” conclusion to the year. NASCAR wanted an exciting finale when they instituted the Chase, and they now have that.

All that they have to do now is decide how many they want to invite to the party next season. If they want Junior in it, they just might have to extend the number of invitations to twenty.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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