Well if NASCAR wanted to generate interest in their major league Sprint Cup Series, they got it. This weekend’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway comes down to four candidates, some unlikely, to claim their first premier championship.
Leading the pack is Kevin Harvick in his Stewart-Haas Chevrolet, who has the most momentum rolling into South Florida. He won convincingly in Phoenix, edging out Jeff Gordon who lost his chance to compete for the championship by a single point.
Everyone thought mistakes would be the deciding factor in promoting four drivers to the ultimate competition. But in the end, it just boiled down to plain good racing. The only sure spot is finishing first. Running second, third or fourth does you no good.
Joining Harvick in the Sunshine State for Championship week is Denny Hamlin driving the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Joey Logano as the Ford flag waver for Team Penske, and Ryan Newman giving Richard Childress Racing their first championship hopes since Dale Earnhardt won the Cup 20 years ago.
Now it all comes down to one race at the mile and a half Homestead-Miami Speedway and Harvick feels he’s ready for his first Sprint Cup championship with a team that was nonexistent a year ago at Stewart-Haas Racing.
“We had a decent test at Homestead,” said Harvick, who has recorded two second place finishes at the Florida track. “We’ll go back to the shop and talk about what we thought about our test and things we need to work on. The guys in our engineering department will come up with a good baseline setup. We have a lot to draw from having the other seven cars of Stewart-Haas and Hendrick Motorsports. Hopefully we can unload down there and start off on the right track. It’s a tough ole racetrack, so the groove is going to be right up against the wall and hard to pass. We have to qualify well for a good pit spot and do all things we need to put us in a position to win.”
After all the raw emotion displayed at Texas Motor Speedway’s pit road a couple of weeks ago, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Ryan Newman drove through Kyle Larson knowing he had to pass him or else it was over for the year. Newman made a dive move underneath Larson and roughed him up on the white-flag lap, and gaining a shot at the grand prize.
“It was tough,” said a satisfied Newman. “I had to do everything I possibly could. I wasn’t proud of having to drive him (Larson) that way into the last corner on the last lap. There’s a man (Earnhardt) upstairs who have done the very exact same thing. I’m happy we made it to the next round. This is a chance for a dream come true”
Team Penske driver, Joey Logano, struggled mightily in Phoenix and had to wait for his opportunity came to get back on the lead lap. His team will be taking the same strategy into Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend.
“It’s a lot of emotions, when the No. 4 car laps you. You don’t know how the race is going to play out,” said Logano, the youngest of Sprint’s Cup Final Four at the age of 23. “You don’t know if you’re going to get enough cautions or if you going to get the Lucky Dog or will you get the Lucky Dog pass. When you go a lap down, it’s not a day ender, but it makes your race a lot harder. We had a decent car. When you’re trying to work your way through the field and racing really hard, you burn your stuff up too much and you get in trouble. All we could do is work our way back, slowly, but surely.”
Hamlin’s resurgence after failing to make the Chase last year must have put a spur underneath him for 2014. He’s fought hard and driven dedicated to get back to this point and now he’s just a race away.
“That’s all we can do is give ourselves a shot,” said Hamlin, the defending Homestead champion. “Anything can happen in a one race playoff. We just hope things fall our way. You have to execute, and you have to go through the due process of running 300 or 400 miles, and this week is going to be no exception. It’s going to be whoever executes a flawless day is going to be the champion.”
Coverage of the Ford EcoBoost 400 in on ESPN with a two hour prerace Countdown show that starts at 1 p.m. EST and the green flag falling at 3:15 p.m. for 267 laps at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Photos courtesy of NASCAR Media.