It all comes down to this. One race, four contenders, one champion. Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway is not just the final race of the long NASCAR season it determines who will become the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion. NASCAR’s Chase playoff format has whittled down a 16 driver field to just four. Love it or hate it, the Chase is how the champ will be determined. Unlike the years prior to the Chase, the champion has not yet clinched, and there are more than two drivers who will race for the title. Who wins Sunday’s race will almost be secondary to the driver who wins the title. The scenario is easy to understand: Whichever driver finishes ahead of the other three will win it all.
Last year Kevin Harvick won the race, but beat Chase contender Ryan Newman who finished second. Harvick won the race and the title. There is no guarantee that the race winner will be the series champion. Thus this week the focus will be on analyzing the four drivers who have a shot at the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup title. The odds are current as of Thursday morning for your NASCAR betting or fantasy racing leagues. The Driver Ratings, a stat that combines other stats to determine the top drivers, was compiled from 2005-2014 races (10 total) among active drivers at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Kevin Harvick (3-2) is the favorite among many. However, until the checkered flag falls Sunday, nothing is a given. Looking at the stats though Harvick is a clear favorite. He has the fourth best driver rating, 102.5, and keeping in mind that he doesn’t need to win only finish ahead of the other 4, Harvick has the best average running position among the Chase 4, 7.3 with the next-best driver being Kyle Busch at 9.2. With his win here last season and experience winning a title, if Harvick can avoid trouble, he will be the driver to beat.
Kyle Busch (11-4) has overcome quite a bit of adversity to get deeper into the Chase than he has ever been. He missed the first part of the season but returned and did everything that was asked of him by NASCAR to become eligible for the Chase. Busch has the ninth best driver rating, 91.5. He has tamed his aggressiveness in the last few weeks, doing just what he needed to do to protect his position and remain eligible for the final race. But Busch has had the least success among the four at Homestead. In 10 starts here he has no wins, one top five (10.0%) and three top 10s (30.0%). He also owns three finishes worse than 30th, including a 39th-place finish there last year. In fact, his 23.1 Homestead average finish ranks 25th among active drivers. However, all those races came when Busch wasn’t a Chase contender and that could make a difference Sunday.
Jeff Gordon (7-2) is racing in his final Sprint Cup race as a full time driver and will be trying to go out with a bang by securing his fifth series title and his first since the inception of the Chase. It was a huge story when he won at Martinsville a few weeks ago to secure his spot among the final four and it would be even a bigger story if he won the title Sunday. He has the fifth best driver rating, 100.7, and in 16 starts at the 1.5-mile track, he has one win, than coming in 2012 (6.2%), seven top fives (43.8%) and 12 top 10s (75.0%). He finished 10th at Homestead last year after leading a race-high 161 laps. Gordon has a great chance and all the motivation in the world to beat the other three Sunday. If his mid-season struggles don’t come back to haunt him Sunday, he may very well do just that.
Martin Truex Jr. (3-1) is the underdog and would be a big a story as any if he can pull off finishing ahead of the other three Sunday. Racing for a single car team based out of Colorado, Truex has done just what he has needed to do to put himself in position to win the title. The stats seemed to give him a little hope. In 10 starts at Homestead, Truex has no wins, but does have three top fives (30%), seven top 10s (70%) and a 10.0 average finish which his second among active drivers. What sets him apart from the rest of the Chase 4 at Homestead is his driver rating and the stats that make up that rating. He tops the other four drivers at Homestead in average running position (9.0, second among active drivers), average Green Flag speed (162.357 mph, first) and has third best driver rating, 106.6, and tops among the other Chase drivers. Truex has been the Cinderella story of the Chase and he could be wearing those glass slippers at the end of the day Sunday.
Others: Someone outside the Chase could win the race Sunday. Chief among them is Matt Kenseth (8-1) who will be making his first appearance since a two-race suspension. Kenseth has the second best driver rating in the field, 108.9, and won here in 2007. He was sixth here last year but look for him to make a strong statement after his suspension by finishing off his season with a win. Carl Edwards (15-1) has the highest driver rating in the field, 110.2, and two wins here. Jimmie Johnson (7-1) has the sixth best driver rating, 97.5, and will be looking for his first win, he was ninth here last year. Another driver who could steal the show is Denny Hamlin (15-1) who also has two wins here the last coming just two year ago. He has the seventh best driver rating, 95.9, and was seventh here last year after leading 50 of the 267 laps.
Qualifying on Friday might help narrow down the winner. 11 of the 16 (68.8%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Homestead have been won from a starting position inside the top 10, while only two of the 16 (12.5%) have been won from the pole. Five of the 16 (31.3%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Homestead have been won from the front row: two from the pole and three from second place. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway will get the green flag just after 3:00 p.m. ET Sunday with live coverage on NBC.