This weekend, the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series comes to an end with the final race; the championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The four championship contenders, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr and Brad Keselowski will fight it out in Sunday’s race for the crown; with whoever finishes highest taking the title.
Homestead-Miami Speedway is a 1.5-mile oval that features eighteen to twenty degrees of progressive banking through all four of its turns. The drivers will complete 267 laps over the 400-mile race distance on Sunday, with the race starting as the sun sets and ending under the lights.
Homestead-Miami Speedway hosted it’s first NASCAR Cup Series race in 1999, with Tony Stewart taking the victory for Joe Gibbs Racing. In 2003, Homestead was reconfigured from a mostly flat oval to the banked oval that we see today. Bobby Labonte won the first race on the new-look track, also driving for Joe Gibbs.
Eighteen races have been held at Homestead since it joined the calendar in 1999. In that time, Roush Fenway Racing has gone to victory lane seven times. Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle have the joint highest number of victories with three each, with Denny Hamlin having the most of any active driver having won twice in 2009 and 2013.
Last time out:
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series last raced at Homestead-Miami Speedway a year ago for the 2016 season-finale. Kevin Harvick took pole position for the race after Chase Elliott was unable to convert his strong pace in the first two sessions to a front-row position in the final.
Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch entered the race as the four championship contenders. Throughout the race, it looked as though Edwards was on course to finally take a Cup Series championship, with this #19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry looking like the fastest of the four contending cars.
However, all this changed on a late-race restart with ten laps to go. Joey Logano got a fantastic restart in the #22 Penske Ford, which forced Edwards to throw a block to try and keep the lead. However, Edwards moved over too much and drove across the nose of Logano and ploughed into the inside wall. From there, momentum carried Edwards’ car up the track and into the path of the field. Carl would be collected heavily several times and would eventually come to rest in a badly beaten Camry. This would end what would be his final chance at a Cup Series title.
Through all the chaos and despite having not looked fast enough for much of the race, Jimmie Johnson would end up right at the front of the field for a final overtime finish. He would pass Kyle Larson for the lead of the race on the final restart and would go on to take the chequered flag. With it, he’d also secure his seventh NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Last weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway saw eight championship contenders enter, with only four leaving with a chance of winning the title. Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson had his slim title hopes ended early after a puncture put him in the wall. Ryan Blaney, despite having taken pole-position for the race, didn’t have the pace to fight for the win that would’ve put him in the championship four. He would also be eliminated by the end of the race.
Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott both had the pace to be able to win last Sunday, but Elliott wasn’t going to let Hamlin have a chance of making it to the championship four after their controversial clash at Martinsville a few weeks ago. Whilst battling for position, Elliott got on the inside of Hamlin and ran him up the track and into the wall. The ensuing damage led to a puncture for Hamlin a few laps later. He would hit the outside wall hard enough to end his race and his championship hopes.
Elliott was able to contend for the victory during the last few laps of the race, but Matt Kenseth was able to run him down and take the win away with ten to go. Second place wouldn’t be enough for Chase, who would join Hamlin, Blaney and team-mate Johnson in elimination.
All of this would earn Brad Keselowski the final spot in the championship four after a tense race for the #2 driver. He joins Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr as the championship contenders; with the other three drivers having secured their spots prior to the Phoenix race.
Potential champion and race winner:
Of the championship four, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr arguably have the best chance of taking home the title based on their form throughout the season. The pair have been consistently two of the fastest drivers at pretty much every track the series visited.
Harvick has also shown great speed at Homestead in the past and at other tracks during the playoffs, but it’ll be down to Stewart-Haas Racing to bring a fast #4 Ford Fusion to the track this weekend. Of course, Keselowski has a chance too, but he may have to hope on trouble for his rivals if he wants to earn a second Cup series title. His #2 Penske Ford hasn’t been as fast as his rivals throughout the playoffs and the season.
As for the race victory, Busch and Truex Jr are again in the mix as they have been consistently competitive all season, but non-playoff contenders such as Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin could interfere in the battle. Hamlin has been to victory lane at Homestead on two occasions in his career and Larson has also shown great speed at the venue running his famous high line.
Track action for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be televised by Premier Sports, NBC, NBCSN and the NBC Sports App this weekend. First practice and Coors Light Pole qualifying will take place on Friday ahead of two further practice sessions on Saturday. The final race of the season, the Ford EcoBoost 400, will take place on Sunday afternoon.