|12/03/15||The Champion By NHMS Numbers|
|11/20/15||The Championship Four Preview|
|11/13/15||Phoenix: Three To Watch|
|10/30/15||Martinsville: Three To Watch|
|10/18/15||Kansas: Three To Watch|
|10/05/15||Charlotte: Three To Watch|
2014 Championship Race Odds
This is it. There's one race left and four contenders to determine the 2014 NASCAR Champion.
It's the same four that we've predicted all along, right? A stable of Hendrick Motorsports drivers and the wins leader, Brad Keselowski ... wait, what's that? None of those guys made it?!
The Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be unlike anything NASCAR fans have seen before. None of the four contenders (Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick) have ever won a championship, so it's guaranteed a first-time champion will be crowned.
The math for earning that title is simple: beat the other three drivers. That's it.
Yet, despite all the excitement we've seen over the first nine races of the Chase, including two brawls and more than a few bumps and bent feelings, there are still some fans that poo-poo this current format.
For them, I have a suggestion: don't watch on Sunday. Seriously, don't. The excitement might be too much for you.
If nobody watches, maybe NASCAR will revert to the old school season-long points setup. You know, the one that the Nationwide Series used to crown Chase Elliott with a race remaining in the schedule. As much as Elliott should be lauded for his accomplishment, would any of you really prefer to watch the meaningless Nationwide Series race this Saturday? If so, go ahead.
But, if we all watch, and we all get excited for the outcome, it's unlikely that NASCAR CEO Brian France will whip out a typewriter and fax a message to reporters saying that he's returning to a system that hasn't been in vogue since before Facebook, mobile internet, and the prevalence of HD television.
It's your choice: either you can watch and risk showing some support for the system, or you can ignore it in protest and miss out on what could be one of the most exciting finishes in the history of the sport. (Don't worry, some fans probably left Daytona before the Donnie Allison/Cale Yarborough finish in 1979. I'm sure they still tell their grandchildren about how awesome it was to beat traffic that day.)
In an effort to maintain the fantasy NASCAR prediction element of the preview, here's a look at the four contenders and how they stack up as potential champions:
1. Kevin Harvick
Harvick has led 2,083 laps this season. By comparison, Brad Keselowski (second-most) has led 1,540. He has five wins and six second-place finishes on the season. When the team has had it going, like it has lately, the No. 4 has been tough to beat.
When it comes to Homestead specifically, Harvick ranks second to just Carl Edwards with an 8.1 average finish. That includes 11 top-10s in 13 starts, but it doesn't include a win. This Sunday would be a good time to break through into that win column.
Harvick's Championship Odds: 40%
2. Joey Logano
Logano ranks second to Jeff Gordon on the season in total points accrued with 1,188. He's shown the consistency necessary to contend and has picked up five wins, second to just Keselowski's six. The 2014 season has had all the makings of a championship run for the No. 22 team, now it needs to finish it off.
Logano has not been strong at Homestead historically, but he earned the pole in 2012 and cracked the top-10 for the first time in five tries with an eighth-place finish last year. In general, Logano's historical stats have been taken with a grain of salt as he's been a completely different (and better) driver since joining Penske Racing in 2013.
Logano's Championship Odds: 30%
3. Denny Hamlin
Hamlin seemed like a long shot at the start of the Chase. He did miss one race due to a health issue, but he's only accrued the 14th-most points on the season. His only win on the season came in the restrictor plate race at Talladega in May. He's led more than 28 laps in just three races this season, but all three have come in the last 11 events, and he's peaked at the right time.
Where Hamlin becomes intriguing is his past performance at Homestead, a track at which he won for the second time last November. He's the only one of the four contenders to have won at Homestead, but he also lost the 2010 championship to Jimmie Johnson in this race Hamlin can certainly do it, but he'll need to be more focused than he was that year.
Hamiln's Championship Odds: 20%
4. Ryan Newman
Anyone that feels obligated to speak against Newman's actions to bump Kyle Larson out of the way and earn the spot he needed to get into the Championship Race should stick to non-contact sports like tennis or golf. Since its inception, stock car racing has operated on the adage that "rubbin's racing." What Newman did wasn't dirty, it was just rough, and it exemplified the desire of a champion that any fan should expect in their own favorite.
The problem is that Newman's stats don't exemplify a champion. He has just four top-fives and 15 top-10s. He was the last driver to qualify for the Chase, and by comparison, Larson, who missed the Chase has eight top-fives and 17 top-10s. This isn't to discredit his position. He's earned his way through each round by racing consistently in the Chase. But, it does mean that he stacks up as a longer shot this weekend, as it's not probable that he finishes in front of all three of the other contenders.
He also has struggled at Homestead, where he has just one top-five and four top-10s in 12 starts, which results in a 17.0 average finish at the track. Winning the championship is simple, but not easy for him.
Newman's Championship Odds: 10%